In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27th--the date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau--as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year marks the 71st anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of the largest Nazi death camp, on January 27, 1945.
Judaism has several laws and practices concerning death and mourning. The two main principles that guide these laws are kevod ha-met, treating the deceased with respect, and kevod he-chai, concern, or care for the well-being of the survivors. The Jewish process of handling death and dying can be split into three parts: from death to the funeral, funeral and burial, and then the mourning period. While a death of a friend or loved one affects the entire community, only the immediate family (children, parents, spouses, and siblings) are considered to be fully in mourning, and therefore subject to the Jewish laws concerning the mourning period.
Once a person dies, it is common for the family to recite the following prayer:
ברוך אתה יי אלהינו, מלך העולם, דין האמת
Baruch ata, Adonai Eloheinu, melech haolam Dayan ha-emet
Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, the righteous Judge
Out of respect for the deceased and as a comfort to those in mourning, funerals usually take place within three days of a death. The immediate family will generally be given a piece of black cloth to rip and wear on their clothing as a symbol of their grief. Rather than sending flowers to a Jewish funeral, it is customary to offer condolences by making a contribution to a charity in memory of the deceased.
The period of seven days following the funeral is Shivah. During this period, mourners are generally cared for by the community and excused from social obligations. This is a period of time when the family can go through the grieving process in relative privacy. The memory of the deceased is honored each day of Shivah with a short service and the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish. Once Shivah is over, the family members in mourning begin to slowly return to their normal lives, activities, and obligations.
Each year, on the anniversary of a person’s death, Yahrzeit is observed. Families and friends usually light a candle or memorial lamp for the day of the yahrzeit and recite the Kaddish.
Moshe Zabari’s Yahrzeit light in the Skirball collection is constructed of bronze and is dedicated to the massacre of six million Jews during to Holocaust. The base of the lamp has an inscription from Psalms, which translates to “And they cried to God in their trouble.” This small lamp is designed to be lit by oil and a wick and has an open bulb that will surround the flame.
Moshe Zabari was born in Israel to an Orthodox Jewish family in 1935. After serving in the army, Zabari studied at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem where he worked under renowned metal-worker Ludwig Wolpert. After Bezalel, Zabari went on to become artist-in-residence and director of the Tobe Pascher Workshop of The Jewish Museum, New York.