For Yom Kippur I was with the Denver Kehillah, which held services at BMH-BJ congregation. Upon the walls of BMH-BJ are photos of confirmation classes for both historic congregations. My sisters, parents, aunts, and I are in these photos. Both sides of my family grew up at Beth Joseph and my paternal grandmother grew up at BMH. Great-grandparents and many other relatives’ names are among the memorial plaques. And Yom Kippur is the yartzeit (day of remembrance) for my maternal grandfather, Sam “Chooch” Jacobs. My ancestors felt particularly present this Yom Kippur, and especially during the Yizkor (Remembrance) ceremony.
Yizkor is quite simple, really. A psalm or two to prepare us for the appropriate paragraph said in memory of the departed. For relatives or others, we implore God to recall the memory of the deceased. We pledge charity in honor of the departed so their souls may enjoy a dignified rest.
While reciting Yizkor I’ve been struck by the distinction between the Hebrew and English translation. Yizkor includes a pledge of charity in the deceased/s’ memory. In some English translations, this pledge becomes a “loving testimony.” It is also in the English where memory “conquers death’s dominion and where we are strengthened by the blessing which they left us, by precious memories which comfort and sustain us.”
While hard to acknowledge, not all who we remember brought us goodness and tenderness and care and compassion. The truth is that each of us can recall someone who caused us pain. The true power of Yizkor is not in merely remembering those who are easy to recall. Yizkor is a means, a process, the power of which lies not on the page of the prayer book but in each of us.
Yizkor is a tikkun, an act of repair, where in we commit ourselves through all the weight of a pledge of charity to improve this world through our deeds. The love and pain, present in all human relationship is equally transmitted for the betterment of this world.
This Shabbat, as we read of Moses’ legacy in HaAzinu I invite you to recall those who brought you joy and reflect upon those individuals whose lives may have brought sorrow, and pledge in their memory to make some meaningful contribution to improve our community and world.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Jay Strear at CEO@jewishcolorado.org with comments or questions.