One woman’s mission to keep the flame alive for the hostages

Jo Woolfe’s project has led to around three million Shabbat candles being lit worldwide for the captives since October 7


Jo Woolfe meeting the father of hostage Chanan Yablonka and giving him his son's card from the Youbetheirlight project (Photo: Jo Woolfe)

A Shabbat candle-lighting initiative for the hostages, which started in the living room of a north-west London home, has led to three million candles being lit worldwide over the past seven months.

With the help of a team of volunteers, Jo Woolfe packs 2,000 pairs of candles every week, which she then delivers to kosher shops and Jewish schools.

Thanks to an Instagram post by influencer Chaya of London and with the continued support of Rabbi Yisroel Weisz of The Village Shul in Hampstead, the idea has gone viral, with similar projects springing up in Canada, the USA and Israel, as well as in many other countries.

Speaking to the JC, Jo, who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, said: “10 to 20 volunteers turn up every Wednesday to pack candles. They might stay for half an hour or four hours.”

“Some of them were my friends already, but some of them I didn’t know before. But through doing this together, I have made friends for life.”

Each pack contains two tealights, a card with a photo of a hostage, their name and age and a prayer for them and also for those who have been released. On another card, there is a prayer for Israel, Shabbat prayers and a picture of the faces of all the hostages.

Jo, who is half Israeli, changes the age of a hostage on the card if they have had a birthday, and if a hostage is released, the card will be changed from dark blue to light blue and the candles in their pack are yellow. “Hopefully, all of the cards will become light blue soon and all the candles will be yellow,” said Jo.

The event planner first came up with the idea of people lighting Shabbat candles in their own homes for the hostages when she helped set up the Shabbat table for the hostages at JW3 at the end of October.

“There were blue candles for Israel at the Shabbat table, and we decided to give them away to visitors. After the Shabbat table closed, I really felt I needed to do something, so I decided to carry on with the candles.”

For the first couple of weeks, the mum of two packed 600 sets, but demand quickly grew, both locally and globally, and Jo estimates that some 100,000 pairs of candles are now being distributed worldwide every week.

“Packing the candles is quite therapeutic since we can’t be on our phones or scrolling through social media as we’re having to use our hands.”

On the wall of her living room is a whiteboard, and sometimes, Jo writes the name of a person who has recently died. “When my grandfather passed away, we wrote his name on the board, and we packed in his merit. If we find out that a hostage has tragically been killed, we pack in their merit.”

The thinking behind the project is encapsulated by a phrase which is written on every pack, #Youbetheirlight. “It’s about lighting for the hostages on their behalf because they can’t. We heard that one of the hostages, Omer Shem Tov, saves up the salt from the pita the hostages are given to make kiddush. It’s about lighting for them until, please God, we don’t have to anymore.”

Earlier this year, Jo went out to Israel, where she visited the Hostages and Missing Families Forum headquarters in Tel Aviv. “I took every hostage card with me, and when I met a family of a hostage, I was able to give them the card of their relative. They were so grateful and humbled.”

Describing the centre as “an unbelievable place”, Jo says: “It means that people aren’t sitting at home by themselves; they have support, counselling and meals.”

The project is reliant on individual donations, with each pack costing 31p to produce and 2,000 sets around £600. “Some people sponsor a week in memory of a loved-one,” says Jo.

While the idea of charging people for the candles has been discussed, Jo is reluctant to go down this route. “I don’t want people not to take them because they can’t or don’t want to pay. In the meantime, I plan to carry on with this project until all the hostages come home.”

To donate to the #Youbetheirlight project, email:

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive