Thursday, April 19, 2012


Yizkor comes from the verb to remember.  We Jews commanded to remember many things.  As a collective, and as individuals, we must remember the Exodus from Egypt.  That is the purpose of the holiday of Pesach.  It is especially fitting, therefore, that one of the four Yizkor services during the year takes place during Passover. (The other three are on the festivals of Shavuot, Shmini Atzeret and on Yom Kippur.) The act of remembering, or not forgetting, is one of the signature acts of Judaism.  As I was growing up, I remember my Bubbe saying, "don't forget where you came from."

As a person saying Kaddish daily, I am constantly reminded to remember my mother.  As I recite Kaddish, I try to remember something about her, some quality, some event.   Sometimes I just some try to get an inchoate sense of her.  I suppose, though, that after my year of Kaddish, when I am no longer "obligated" to remember her, the Yizkor service will take on even more significance.  These four days will be the formal times of rememberence. 

I didn't know what to expect for my first Yizkor.  The Rabbi helped me.  He spoke before the service.  He told us to imagine a beautiful lake (in my mind, the lake was covered with mist).  He told us to imagine there was a bridge across the lake.  We, the living, were on one side of the bridge.  Our departed loved ones were on the other side.  At Yizkor we got the opportunity to be with them again, even if briefly.  We could meet halfway across the bridge before returning to our respective sides. 

At Yizkor I recited the prayer for my mother who had gone to "her world" for her soul to be bound up "in the Bond of Life" in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden).  I did cry, more than just tearing up and less than tears rolling down.  My father cried more.  I heard the muffled cries of others.  My father told me that when  he was growing up, wailing in shul was common, especially during Kol Nidre and the U'ne Tana Tokef prayer ("who shall live and who shall die . . .) on Yom Kippur.  Now Yizkor seems to be the only occasion left where crying in shul is accepted.

Yizkor ended.  It's not a long service.  As quickly as the tears came, they dried up.  The bridge, seemingly so real for those few moments, faded away.  I felt better afterwards. 

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