“We must remember each person as an individual who had a family, a profession and a community, to focus on the way they lived full lives, not just how they perished,” said the founder of the initiative.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
Within 10 years, anyone who survived the Holocaust (Shoah in Hebrew) will most likely be gone and those who perished during that dark time might be forgotten.
In an effort to ensure the victims will be remembered, Alicia Kaylie Yacoby, Treasurer and Director at Harvey & Gloria Kaylie Foundation, Inc., which funded Israel’s first lunar lander, created a website where people can download a label with the name of someone who perished and whatever facts are known about him or her in order to wrap it around a memorial candle and light it on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins Monday evening.
The initiative, called “Our6Million,” started in 2013 with a database of just 60 names in Hebrew and 12 names in English. Today, the database contains over 250,000 names with whatever details are known about each person. The impressive collection grows each year as family members and friends of victims upload the details. Names are also gathered from Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and other credible websites.
“Older survivors especially want the people they knew to be remembered,” Yacoby told United with Israel (UWI). “They get very emotional thinking that after they are gone their family or friends will be forgotten. Unfortunately, the number of survivors able to tell their story is decreasing rapidly while Holocaust deniers are both increasing in number and becoming louder.”
Last year, one million memorial candles were lit due to Yacoby’s initiatives, which include distributing memorial candles through coordinated efforts with schools, businesses and organizations located mostly in Israel and the US. The goal is to substantially increase names in the database until reaching a full list of those who perished with the hope of creating “a candle for every name.”
Yacoby is focused on helping people forge a personal connection with the individuals who make up the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and committed to developing ways to keep individual memories alive. She predicts that this endeavor will be even more challenging for future generations, which are increasingly removed from the atrocities that the Nazis perpetrated during the Holocaust.
“It’s very hard to imagine six million people,” she said. “After brainstorming with a friend, we got the idea to put specific information about individuals on a memorial candle to give a glimpse into the life they led. It’s very important to remember each person as an individual who had a family, profession and were part of a community. We want to focus on the way they lived a full life and not just how they perished.”
She said the project takes the ancient Jewish tradition of lighting a memorial candle for the deceased on the day they died and unites it with the modern technology that Israel, the “start-up nation,” is known for. “Each downloadable label includes a scan code to find out more about the individual. We took a Jewish tradition and moved it forward for a new generation.”
With this year’s near-global lockdown due to coronavirus and the cancellation of Holocaust Memorial Day public ceremonies, Yacoby came up with creative solutions to keep her mission on track. “Usually we enlist the help of those with special needs to attach the labels to the candles and then send them out,” Yacoby said. “Instead, we had 7,500 candles sent to our home in Ramat HaSharon where our daughter, who is on break from her army service, helped affix the labels. When our neighbors got wind of what we were doing, they also wanted to help. We had delivered an additional 14,500 candles and the whole community got involved with affixing the labels.”
Yacoby created partnerships with over 100 businesses, including one of Israel’s leading supermarkets, Supersol. “We donated 50,000 memorial candles to Supersol this year. The store put a candle in each home delivery as a great way to assure distribution continues.”
Without memorial events, lighting a candle in memory of a Holocaust victim is particularly meaningful this year. “It’s important for the younger generation to relate to the Holocaust,” Yacoby said. “Just like everyone keeps the tradition of lighting Chanukah candles, we hope that it will become a family tradition to light a memorial candle on Holocaust Memorial Day to retain the memory of the Six Million and make it meaningful.
“The way I see it, the people who perished in the Holocaust had no idea if Judaism would continue after they are gone. Hitler wanted Judaism to die with his victims,” she said. “Had they known that there would be a State of Israel and in that Jewish state they would be remembered, it would have been very empowering. Our victory is the continuity of the Jewish nation.”