Yizkor service remembers the dead

Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Jewish High Holy days have just ended. Beginning with Rosh Hashana and ending with Yom Kippur, they are a time of contemplation, rededication, spiritual accounting and introspection. We eat special foods to remind us of the sweetness of life. We acknowledge, and then symbolically cast away our mistakes and misdeeds, vowing not to repeat them. We atone for our transgressions to God and apologize and ask forgiveness to friends, family and acquaintances we have wronged in some way. We take responsibility for our own actions and commit to doing better.

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On Yom Kippur, as the High Holy days come close to the end, we recognize and remember loved ones, friends and family (both closely related and distant by generations) who have died. This part of the Yom Kippur services is called the Yizkor service. It is both moving and heartbreaking.. Sheri Mandel, an Israeli mother who has turned her own incredible loss into a healing for others says 'Yom Kippur is a day of mourning. We are mourning our old selves even as we are engaged in the reforming of our new selves. The Yizkor service is our place of memories and tears, of tender dreams and hopes. It is the spoken and meditative recognition of loss along with the poignant reminder of the beauty of life."

The Yizkor prayers whisper to us in the ancient voice of our tradition. We come together to find comfort - to remind ourselves that everything lives; that no one we have ever loved can ever be lost. Weary from the journey we come to Yizkor to be replenished and to live again. Yizkor has enormous power as it is at once binding and liberating. It binds us to our past but liberates us from the heavy mantle of grief. It is an affirmation of life much more than a submission of the inevitability of death and loss.

During Yizkor we remember those we have lost, both recently and from before our own time. The Jewish prayer of remembrance is repeated in synagogues throughout the world.

"At the rising of the sun and it's going down

"We remember them.

"At the blowing of the wind in the chill of winter

"We remember them

"At the opening of the buds and in the birth of Spring

"We remember them

"At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn,

"We remember them

"As long as we live, they too will live,

"They are a part of us

"We remember them."

Even when sadness engulfs us and is a constant reminder of what we have lost - life waits for us to get back in the game; to keep on; to live each day with intent and purpose. We can remember the ones we have lost by treasuring our memories, smiling at adventures we have shared and at the joy they gave us. But we honor them by finding our passions, living our lives with delight and gusto, being curious and brave and showing kindness and compassion. May the memories of those we recall in Yizkor remembrance be for us now and always a source of benediction and blessing and so may we, in the way we live our lives be a blessing for them.

In loving memory of Mildred Lang (April 19, 1917 to Feb. 1, 2006) and Tobias Lee, (Jan. 13, 1981 to April 18, 2006). Your lives, and the lives of all who have gone before you, live on in our memory now and forever.

• Chava Lee is a member of the Sukkat Shalom congregation.

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