Shavuot: If You’re Going to Burn the Candle at Both Ends, at Least Do It in Style…

By Danielle Crittenden Frum

… and safety!

The holiday of Shavuot begins this Saturday evening, and ends at sundown on Monday. I’m not sure how many Fig Tree & Vine subscribers are actually going to stay up all night reading the Torah, as is tradition — but certainly it suggests a theme of candlelight by which to study by, my subject for this week’s dispatch.

One of my longstanding beefs about typical Shabbat and holiday candles is their general crumminess. The standard candle for these occasions is generally found in the “kosher” section of most supermarkets and is sold by the box. They are made out of bright white paraffin wax, are a stumpy three-inches tall, and burn the way the Wicked Witch of the West melted at the end of “The Wizard of Oz” movie, minus the shriek.

I don’t get it: We go to great lengths to set a beautiful table on Shabbat and other holidays. Most of us put out a special pair of candle holders — something passed down to us or that we’ve bought specifically for the occasion. So why must we be condemned to using these nasty little candles that, as a final insult, leave sticky wax drippings and residue all over the candle holder? Mr. Mani -[cough]-schewitz, you have a lot to answer for. (And don’t even get me started on the standard-issue yarzheit candle. More on that in a future newsletter!)

For years I habitually used the supermarket candles because what other choice was there? There seems something “official” about using a Jewish-manufactured Shabbat candle, designed to burn for a certain length of time — although “all candles and oils are kosher for use as Shabbat candles, even if they contain non-kosher (for eating) ingredients. The candles should be large enough to burn until after nightfall; ideally, they should burn until after the Friday night meal has concluded.”

By this reasoning, pine-scented candles from Cape Cod are just as kosher as handmade beeswax candles from Tzfat. But as Jews, we are going to have more affinity for, and inclination, to use the latter. And when we don’t have the latter, we tend to default to the boxed ones. One of my goals when creating Fig Tree & Vine was to find a supplier of a better Shabbat and holiday candle; in fact, I thought I’d have to go eventually to Tzfat or some other Israeli artisanal town to find it.

To my happy surprise, one of the very first products I came across were candles from Orb — the creation of businesswoman and Jewish mother of three, Lisa Borden, from my native Toronto, Canada. Lisa, owner of Borden Communications & Design, is a self-described “eco-advocate,” whose commitment to “improving the quality of our health and the environment set her into action to create a safe, healthy and beautiful Shabbat candle.”

Lisa Borden at home with her “Orb”-brand Shabbat and holiday candles. Photo by Johnny Cy Lamm for Fig Tree & Vine.

Aside from sharing my aesthetic issues with typical Shabbat candles, she has long been concerned by their hazardousness. Since we don’t blow out the candles but let them burn down into nothing, they are often left to burn alone on a sideboard after everyone has left the table. We all know the uneasy feeling of leaving unattended candles where they could fall and potentially start a fire. The supermarket candles are especially narrow — only 5/8” wide — too small for standard candle holders. I try to secure mine with candle adhesive or even (adding extra “class”!) aluminum foil — but they often remain dangerously wobbly.

Lisa’s design team came up with 6-inch tall candles made from 100% organic manuka beeswax candles, the “purest and most natural of all waxes.” They are dripless, burn safely for 6 hours, and their wider base fits snugly into most candle holders, lowering the risk of toppling over. Plus they are just plain pretty: naturally golden yellow, they cast a warm, elegant light.
“When we buy and burn paraffin candles, we are harming ourselves and our world,” says Lisa. “When we make better choices and buy, for example, organic manuka beeswax candles, we support beekeepers and bees, and we help save our health and our world. Pretty simple.”

We’ve been using Lisa’s candles in all of our candle holder product photos — but I took these compare & contrast photos of my own to show the difference between an Orb candle and the “other brand.” The two-pronged Art Nouveau pewter candlestick was a gift from my late father-in-law.

Unlit, compare the quality of the two wicks (Orb’s is 100% cotton). Also compare the packaging. All Orb candles are wrapped in tissue and shipped in a silvery pouch. When lit, the Orb candle has a much more substantial presence.

By the end, this guy has puddled into his aluminum foil safety lining. Orb’s candle is shrinking gracefully, not losing her form even at the very end.

Have a lovely Shavuot.

Danielle Frum