Devorah Kur
A Searcher for Truth and Meaning

Connecting to the Yizkor Service during lockdown

(Unsplash)
(Unsplash)

As a bereavement counselor I see people struggling with the idea of what happens now after someone they love has passed away. They ask, “How can I still have a relationship? Has it ended?” The relationship doesn’t end after the death of a loved one, it changes, and a lot of what it now becomes is up to us. Yizkor is one place to start building this ‘new’ relationship.

This year the Yizkor service will be different from all other years, just as Pesach has been different from all other years. Four times a year Shul is usually the most crowded at the Yizkor service, but actually Yizkor doesn’t need to be said with a minyan! Especially this year when we cannot be in Shul with our communities, Yizkor can (and should) still be recited at home.

A beautiful idea I heard from Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg is that at the Pesach Seder, we encourage children to ask questions. This is our obligation as parents to teach about our ancestors and our history so that our children will feel connected. Now at the end of the Chag we say the Yizkor service. It is a time when we remember those who are no longer with us today, a time when we remember how we were once those children who asked our loved ones the questions on Seder night. It is a time when we ask ourselves who we are today because of the influence that they had on us during their lifetime.

The actual Yizkor service is just a few minutes long. So how are we supposed to feel anything when it passes so quickly? If we look at the Pesach Seder, the discussion about the 4 sons or Chad Gadya are just a few lines, yet books and elaborate discussions could be had about each one. So, the best way to get around this is to prepare beforehand. The same is true with the Yizkor service. Preparing beforehand can help us meaningfully connect to the service. Once we have done all of this background thinking and contemplation we are ready for the prayers itself.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “There is a profound difference between history and memory. History is HIS-story – an event that happened sometime else to someone else. Memory is my story – something that happened to me and is a part of who I am. History is information. Memory by contrast, is a part of identity.” For me, Yizkor has become a time of contemplation, where at the beginning of the service I imagine what my loved one (my dad) would be thinking of the life I am leading. I ask myself if he would be proud of my choices and decisions. It’s like a four times a year stock-take of my life.

In the Koren Siddur it says, “Remembrance is fundamental to Judaism. The past is not lost; we remain connected to it to the extent that we remember it, honour it, and keep faith with it. We are its heirs – our lives are part of a story that began long before we were born and will continue long after we physically cease to be. Above all, G-d remembers – as we say in every Amidah, He ‘remembers’ the loving-kindness of the fathers. For Him, there is no forgetting….. At Yizkor, our memory reaches out to that of G-d. We ask Him to remember those of our family who are no longer here. We ask Him to look on the good we do … for it is because of their influence on us that we are in the synagogue; that we pray, and that we try to do good in this life. A connection is thus made between the dead and the living. We remember them; with G-ds help, their virtues live on in us. That is as much of immortality as we can know in the land of the living.”

When someone you love dies, it can feel like the relationship has ended, but the Yizkor service comes to show us that while it may have ended physically, it has not ended spiritually. In this way, the relationship has changed, not ended. At the end of the service we make a promise to give money to charity on behalf of those who are departed. This is a serious vow and one which we should fulfil as soon as possible after the holiday/Chag is over. Our loved ones are no longer able to give charity for themselves and in a sense this is our opportunity to do something for their souls when they are not able to do for themselves anymore.

Before the Chag begins, we light a Yartzeit Candle to commemorate those who have departed. The Yizkor service is not just remembering your personal losses, we also remember the soldiers killed in the IDF and the Jewish martyrs, including the victims of the Holocaust, because we are the guardians of their memory. In the Koren Siddur it says, “The dead cannot be brought back to life, but we can act in such a way as to ensure that they did not die in vain, by showing that the faith for which they died still lives.”

Rabbi Avraham Tanzer says, “The Yizkor is meant to be far more than a sentimental religious ritual honouring the dead. It is a religious challenge, a relentless prodding of our religious conscience. Moreover, Yizkor is a commitment. By its recital, we can resolve to change our thoughts and actions; indeed, our entire lives. Only by doing this can we truly gain the Yizkor experience. Only in this way can we truly honour the memory of those we love.”

Every year during Yizkor we pray for the departed, that Hashem should remember them. This year there is a bit of a different feeling says Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg. Instead of just praying for our loved ones, we will also be asking them to look down on us and pray for us, and all humanity to be able to ‘pass over’ this pandemic as quickly and safely as possible.

Below are additional prayers to be added at the end of the Yizkor service. Please choose the one that is relevant to you. They are published with permission from Kehillat Shivtei Yisrael in Raanana, Israel.

A Prayer to be said by a person whose parents are both alive.
My Father in Heaven; while the souls of those who have departed are being remembered, I look toward You in complete gratitude, that through your kindness my parents are still living here with me. Give them strength and fortitude, and bless them with physical and mental good health and with a life in comfort, so that they will be able to remain with us for many good years and to derive blessing and pleasure from their offspring. Make me worthy of fulfilling with happiness the mitzvah of honouring one’s parents with all my strength and all my resources, out of love and esteem that I feel for them. May I be worthy to be a source of happiness and pleasure for them. May awe as well as love of You be instilled in me so that I can serve you wholeheartedly, and may I and my entire family be blessed with a long and pleasant life.

A Prayer to be said by a person whose mother is alive.
My Father in Heaven; after having dwelled on the memory of my dear father, I look toward You in complete gratitude, that through your kindness my mother is still living here with me. Give her strength and fortitude, and bless her with physical and mental good health and with a life in comfort, so that she will be able to remain with us for many good years and to derive blessing and pleasure from her offspring. Make me worthy of fulfilling with happiness the mitzvah of honouring one’s mother with all my strength and all my resources, out of love and esteem that I feel for her. May I be worthy to be a source of happiness and pleasure for her. May awe as well as love of You be instilled in me so that I can serve you wholeheartedly, and may I and my entire family be blessed with a long and pleasant life.

A Prayer to be said by a person whose father is alive.
My Father in Heaven; after having dwelled on the memory of my dear mother, I look toward You in complete gratitude, that through your kindness my father is still living here with me. Give him strength and fortitude, and bless him with physical and mental good health and with a life in comfort, so that he will be able to remain with us for many good years and to derive blessing and pleasure from his offspring. Make me worthy of fulfilling with happiness the mitzvah of honouring one’s father with all my strength and all my resources, out of love and esteem that I feel for him. May I be worthy to be a source of happiness and pleasure for him. May awe as well as love of You be instilled in me so that I can serve you wholeheartedly, and may I and my entire family be blessed with a long and pleasant life.

About the Author
Devorah Kur is a Reflexologist, an academic associate in Logotherapy (counseling to find meaning in life's difficulties from Dr Victor Frankl's teachings and book - Man's search for meaning) and Bereavement counselor. In her clinic she incorporates mental imagery which uses the mind to help us heal, and emotional first aid for trauma. She is passionate about helping people through their illnesses, challenges and struggles in life, and combines her expertise to empower people to wellbeing of their mind, body and soul. Her forte is to help people ask, “What now?” instead of asking, " Why me?" Devorah teaches at Matan where she connects Torah ideas to personal growth and finding meaning. She lives in Raanana with her family where she runs an Integrative Wellness clinic providing treatments, wellness workshops and online counseling. She is an international motivational speaker, lecturing on meaning and personal growth. Devorah's life dream came true when she made aliyah from South Africa in December 2011 with her husband and 4 daughters. She feels incredibly connected to Israel, the land and the people and on a daily basis considers it a privilege to live here. Devorah is inspired by the quote from James Allen, "Circumstances don't make a man, they reveal him." She lives her life and encourages others to ask "What now?" instead of "Why me?" "We can’t always be in control of which way the wind will blow, But we can be in control of how we steer the boat using the wind!" Anonymous
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