This is m y Yizkor sermon from Yom Kippur Afternoon 5773
Yizkor 5773 -This is the time to remember
Death is ever present in our lives. Even when we would rather not face it. Death is always there. Hovering just beyond and we pray hopefully far away. Sadly, death snatches our friends and family members from our presence and our reality. Whether they were ready or not—or we were ready or not. Death is that final call of no return. Except through the gift of memory and story.
And so at this Yizkor service we stand ready to invoke their memories. We are ready to take a stand against the losses we have endured by championing life and memory and love. We defeat death even if only for an hour; this hour, by choosing to remember. We choose to face death and our losses at Yizkor. That is why we Jews have this dedicated time for remembering. Once a year on a Yarzeit – on the anniversary of our ancestors’ death and four times a year at the Yizkor memorial service like today; Yom Kippur, at the end of Sukkot, at the End of Pesach and at Shavuot. Each of these three is the festivals of the Jewish people. We overcome our busy schedules and lives to stare down death and say we won’t go into the future without invoking the memory of our loved ones. We defeat death when we carry our loved ones with us wherever we go. We defeat death when we stubbornly won’t enter this New Year without honoring the memory of those who died both in years past and in recent months. We defeat death when at the most important holidays-we make sure our ancestors are with us. We Jews state proudly and certainly—the past—those who shaped us, formed us and gave us life are honored for the role they continue to play in our lives despite the fact that they have died.
Today we remember at this holy day season and at each of the three most important times of the Jewish year we invoke the memory of our ancestors who have died. What holiday is complete without recalling the family circle? Parents and grandparents. Spouses and aunt and uncles. Perhaps even our children. This Yizkor service pays homage to our dead. That at the holiest time of year –we recall and remember and pray for their souls and our souls
This all through the gift of memories. This all through the gift of the stories we share about their influences upon us.
But the truth is such that our memories are with us more than just at these holy day moments. I don’t know about you-but I look at the photo of my parents taken at a synagogue dance in the 1960’s and see a young couple who I hardly knew. It is a far cry from the old people they were when they died. A black and white photo with my mother in her dress and matching shoes cigarette in hand. My father with his slick-backed hair and skinny tie and pinstripe suit. But the photograph of them keeps them near to me in a different way. They are still present in my every -day life. Silent witnesses even as I wish I could call and speak with them.
We who live in an era of photographs and video and film have the luxury of having our memories preserved. Snapshots and video clips are downloadable to our phones and IPADS to carry with us wherever we travel in the world so long as our batteries are charged. But not so long ago –the memories of our loved ones were only preserved through stories, family tales and lore and the private pictures preserved in our minds. The Yizkor service helped us focus in on a regular basis of keeping those memories alive. Today will you recall a story about your aunt? A family tale about your grandparents? This holy day time of Yizkor can help you weave that story into the fabric of your existence.
One aspect of the Yizkor service that hasn’t changed at all it is a way to pay tribute to their contributions to our lives in shaping who we have become. As we prepare to chant the El Maleh Rachamim prayer and recite the Kaddish prayer for our loved ones who have died, I invite you this year to think about the lessons that you learned-the good lessons, the bad lessons and the ugly lessons from those whose names you will recite out loud today. How did your mother shape who you have become? How did your grandparents convey their values to you? And in turn how are you conveying your values to the next generation?
Our ancestors and friends have helped to create us. Form us. Influence us. Give our lives meaning. And by recalling them on this Yom Kippur holy day when we pledge to create ourselves anew, helps us bring them along into our new reality of the New Year.
Soon this holy day will be gone and we will return to our homes and our busy work-a-day lives. We will get caught up in the day to day pressures of our lives. But we will have been enriched and anchored in the bosom of our family circle and the many memories of those who no longer walk this earth. By recalling them today, the gift of the heart and mind that shaped us and transmitted values and traditions to us, remain with us. We bond more closely with them as we affirm their memory.
May their memories live for a blessing in our lives.
Ken Yehi Ratzon. So may it be God’s will