The Yizkor service is not a particularly happy one. It’s a memorial service, thoughts of the loved ones who aren’t with us fill the air. Yizkor is said on the major holidays, so as family traditions continue, the absence of the deceased is poignantly felt. As I light the memorial candle the night before the actual prayer service, I always wonder “What would Mommy/Daddy think?”
Am I mournful enough? Grateful enough? My thoughts drift to other living family members, scattered across the globe, standing in their respective homes and synagogues, saying the same words, missing the same people…joined in prayer by our mutual experience and shared memories.
This past Yizkor was completely different than any other Yizkor prayer I’ve said in the past nine years.
One of the main themes of Yizkor is we ask God to include our relatives in the “bond of eternal life.” We recite the name of the departed, promise to give charity with them in mind, and pray that, as a result of our charitable deeds, their souls will be bound up in eternal life.
This year as I recited, “May the soul of my mother, Rivka Mina …be bound in the bond of eternal life…” I knew there was a little Tamar Rivka waiting at home for me. Six weeks old, her nascent smile echoing her great-grandmother’s beaming look.
When I recited, “May the soul of my father, Dov Beryl, ….be bound in the bond of eternal life…” my arms were wrapped around, newest grandson, little Eitan Dov. My father gave his grandchildren bear hugs, and wondered if my embrace was the same.
Two grandchildren, each one named after my parents.
It’s difficult to grasp the esoteric concept of my parents’ souls being bound in everlasting life. It’s much easier to understand the fierce grandchild-grandparent bond which inspired my children to name their own children after their deceased grandparents.
Two new babies were born since Yizkor was last said. These babies bearing their grandparents’ names not only speak of the traditions that were passed from grandparent to new parent, but also express the depth of the love these new parents, the grandchildren, felt for their own grandparents… that they gave their own babies their grandparents’ names.
Traditionally, the Yizkor prayer is recited only after people whose parents are still living leave the sanctuary. So, what was my grandson doing in shul during Yizkor with his grandmother?
His post-partum mother needed a morning nap, and, I, his grandmother, wanted to go to shul to say Yizkor. While a bit unusual to have my grandchild stay inside the sanctuary it felt particularly appropriate, because Eitan Dov’s namesake was an innovator; my father taught me and my siblings to stay inside during memorial prayers. The memories of the six million weighed heavily on my parents; if there was no one to recite Yizkor for them, at the very least, their own children could stay in the sanctuary and think of those who were murdered for being Jews.
Little Eitan Dov honored his great-grandfather’s name by staying inside shul during Yizkor, as I honored my parents by saying Yizkor.
Who knows what happens in the heavens, but on earth, my heart, still torn from the deaths of my parents, is being filled with love for grandchildren who bear their names.
The tears that fell from my eyes during Yizkor were sweeter than usual.
It was, in fact, the Best Yizkor Ever.