The Gift of Yizkor

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Yizkor is a memorial service reserved for just four days a year. The most well known and widely attended is Yom Kippur. Shavuot is another. This past Monday, Yizkor service was held in many Baltimore area synagogues. Primarily for adults who have lost at least one parent, the Yizkor is a monumentally moving experience. This was definitely the case at Beth El Congregation in Pikesville.

Throughout the mourning period and subsequent Yahrzeits, mourners rise and say Kaddish for less than a minute. It is a very private, personal and lonely moment. During the Yizkor service, the entire sanctuary rises and almost as one voice recites prayers together with the clergy. It lasts as what seems to be an eternity, yet afterwards one wishes it would have continued longer. The connection with the entire congregation, along with a surprising intimacy leaves not a dry eye in the room, including clergy.


The Yizkor dynamic is almost cathartic. One leaves the service “lighter” with just the slightest bit of relief. It is an amazing gift for those in grief, from thousands of years of tradition. Yizkor should not be seen as an obligation. It should be recognized as an honor and a privilege, as well as a quarterly opportunity for relief and catharsis.

I had that opportunity Monday. The service was profound as usual. I was a bit more emotional, as we read from the book of Ruth. Ruth was my mother’s name. I went through countless tissues as tears clouded my vision. We all have to move on, yet still we remember. Yizkor aids with that dynamic.


As Rabbi Schwartz mentioned, we move on but still remember, I felt an element of joy. That joy was a combination of relief from an ocean of tears flowing forth from my eyes as well as a closer connection to my mother, my father and my grandma; a closer connection while still moving on. This contrary revelation was extended to me during, immediately after and as a result of Yizkor. Rabbi Schwartz spoke of cling and “clung”, in relation to Ruth and Naomi. I am clinging a bit to my mother Ruth, as I believe she is “clung” to me, along with my father and grandma – the most important and loved people of my life. Sadly, they are no longer here, but still cling to me as I move on. This too is a gift.

At the Kiddush following services, there was an almost fun quality. Jokes were told and laughter was heard. The remainder of the day, I was actually somewhat “giddy”. I had a smile on my face and was more upbeat than I had been in months. Which brings me to the reason I wanted to do this story to begin with: For those who have sustained loss, to go to the next Yizkor, and all following. Go not for the departed, but for yourselves. Yizkor is a memorial for the departed and a gift for the living.

Gary Schuman is a freelance journalist living in Pikesville.

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