When was the last time you took a drink out of a used yahrzeit glass? The thought came to me as I read a post on the Yiddish Word of the Day (A light, fun group of lovers of Yiddish) Facebook Group page. The person posting, Rayna Harris, stated, “I’m old enough to remember that my grandmother’s measuring cup was a yahrzeit candle glass. She was the queen of shiterayn!”
Harris’ post started a barrage of replies. Comments flowed rapidly. Some on the Facebook thread found it sacrilegious to use the memorial glasses for other purposes, whereas others such as Rhonda Nixon Schwartz posted excitedly about using the memorial glasses in other ways. She wrote, “My Bubby used the Yahrzeit glass as a cookie cutter for her sugar cookies.”
I, too, have a total recall of my mother doing the same. She would flip a multipurpose, used yahrzeit glass whenever the need arose.
Others responded that their grandmothers used to give them orange juice in a used yahrzeit glass. Jackie Gerstein Klein received many “likes” when responding, “My grandma used yahrzeit glasses for a ‘glasala’ tea with the sugar cube in her mouth.”
Those yahrzeit glasses were strong enough to have a candle burn in them for 24 hours. Therefore, they could easily handle the ‘glasala’ tea requests I often heard.
Someone on the thread went as far as to find out the measurements of the old, repurposed glasses and recorded that they held seven fluid ounces.
Today’s yahrzeit glasses are smaller and don’t have the same hefty feel to them. Plus, the current market offers artist-made reusable yahrzeit candle holders.
While I was not fortunate enough to have living grandparents to spoil me, growing up drinking from used yahrzeit glasses was not at all odd. It may have been a bit eerie, but not strange to me.
My mother routinely lit many yahrzeit glasses each year and after washing and drying them by hand, she set them in the kitchen cabinet. She also used them as measuring cups and would shiterayn, pouring in this or that, rather than using recipes. Remarkably, her kitchen magic worked each time.
We moved from an apartment in a four-family building in Roselle to a single-family home in Elizabeth when I was 11. Lifelong friends my parents met in the Catskill bungalows, Sarah and Louie Weber, brought pretty drinking glasses when they visited from Brooklyn. I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face when she opened the package and took out a quality drinking glass with a pretty patterned design. I also recall that she was hesitant to use them except on special occasions. And there was always a caution, alerting the kinderlach, “Don’t break the glasses,” which was never before a concern with the abundance of yahrzeit glasses.
Harris responded on the Facebook group post to Renee Levin, who said, “Yuck. It’s for us to remember our loved ones who passed away.” Harris replied, “The candle is the remembrance. The glass is just the vessel.”
While my father had steady employment, and side jobs, their childless friends knew my parents had a tough time making ends meet while raising four children, two born in the early ’40s and two in the early ’50s. The reuse of the yahrzeit glasses was a financial necessity.
Louie, a high school shop teacher, would tinker around, fixing various electronics with my father in the basement as Sarah and my mother were in the kitchen, comparing their respective ways of preparing some basic, old Jewish dishes. Without referring to recipes, my mother and her friend spoke their own culinary language.
As if bartering, they would talk about using about half a jar of this or a few shakes of that. It certainly was a long time ago, but the memories never faded. As a child watching them figure out the unmeasured ingredients to a traditional delicacy such as brisket, it was quite comical.
Our friend Louie peacefully passed away at age 101 on February 10, 2023. He lived more than twice as long as his wife, Sarah. Still, the thoughts of those remembered in yahrzeit glasses of decades past, plus our friends from the Catskills, refreshingly came to mind as I glanced through new posts in the well-attended Facebook group.
Sharon Mark Cohen, writer, journalist and weekly Tuesday blogger believes everyone deserves a legacy.
Follow Sharon at www.sharonmarkcohen.com.