Elevating the Souls of Our Loved Ones
For most of us, the High Holy Days are a time to remember, reflect and return to our truest, best selves. The approach of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur always makes me think of my parents, now gone for over 10 years. I think about the holiday table, groaning under the weight of those delicious, special treats we looked forward to every year. No matter how dutifully I follow my mother’s recipes, they are never quite as good as my memory of hers.
I think about the annual trips to purchase our holiday garb. It was always a special time for my sisters and me, shopping with our mom to choose just the right outfit, as well as the anticipation of seeing everyone in shul, all dressed up in new clothes for the new year.
I think about when I was really little, feeling very important as I sat next to my dad in shul, playing with his tzitzit and being moved by the tear in his voice when he davened. Even though I did not understand the words, I certainly understood that what he was doing was deeply meaningful to him and it meant something to me that I was right there next to him.
Many families follow the tradition that if your parents are still alive, you don’t stay in shul for the Yizkor service. My parents didn’t follow that tradition. They told us that, although we were fortunate enough to still have our parents, we needed to stay and say Yizkor for all of those who had no one to say it for them.
For me, the public and communal memorial service of Yizkor (“Remember” from the root word zakhor) is very different from the experience of observing yahrzeit privately. As a child saying the words of the Yizkor prayer, I felt myself to be a link in the chain of my family, my shul, and the larger history of the Jewish people. I am grateful to my parents for giving me the responsibility of memory.
Many years have passed. Now, when I intone the words of Yizkor, my thoughts turn to my beloved parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others who have been lost. I am proud to have become the person they wanted me to be, the person I want to be, connected to my heritage and honored by my responsibility to be charitable in their names.
Reciting Yizkor, we say, “In loving testimony to their lives, I pledge charity to help perpetuate ideals important to them. Through such deeds, and through prayer and memory, are their souls bound up in the bond of life.”
By giving charity, we make a positive change in this world on their behalf and keep their spirits and names alive.
I know that my parents would have been very proud of the work I am honored to do for the B’nai Jeshurun community. And I know that my gift to BJ in my parents’ memory will elevate their souls. I hope you will consider honoring the memory of your loved ones with a gift to BJ, too.