7: Excerpt, Rosa Palatnik, “The Yom Kippur Candle Went Out,” 1953.
Rosa Palatnik (1904-1981) was born near Lublin and had both a religious Jewish and a secular education. In 1927 she immigrated to Paris, where she contributed to the Yiddish press. In 1936 she settled in Rio de Janeiro, where she published widely in Latin American Yiddish periodicals, composing roughly two hundred short stories. In this story, “TheYom Kippur Candle Went Out,” Mirel, a Jewish immigrant living in Paris, recalls the Yom Kippurs of her past and decides to go to synagogue for Kol Nidre services. Even though in her hometown she had already begun secularizing, on Yom Kippur she rededicates herself to her promise to her father that she would remain a Jew. But just as she is preparing to commemorate the holiday she realizes that she has to work instead or she will lose her job.
Suggested Activity: Have your students discuss the following questions: Why does Mirel feel that it is important to observe Yom Kippur? What practices does she find most important? When she says to her daughter, “I am doing this for you,” what is she referring to? Observing Yom Kippur or working on the holiday, or both?
Are there sacred and sacrilegious ways of breaking with religious tradition – and, if so, is Mirel’s decision to work sacred or is it sacrilegious? If your students have read multiple texts in this kit, invite them to put them in order according to the extent to which the Yom Kippur practice described is sacred or sacrilegious. Have them discuss and defend their choices.
Does this story posit that Jewish religion is incompatible with immigrant life? Can you relate this to ways in which immigrants to America today may experience conflicts between their traditions and the demands of their new lives?
Source: Rosa Palatnik, Kroshnik-Rio: Dertseylungen (Kroshnik—Rio: Stories). Rio de Janeiro: 1953. Unpublished translation by Jessica Kirzane.