Dear TEE community,
Our ancient ancestors lived by an agricultural calendar. They celebrated three major festivals at the beginning of spring, the first harvest of early summer, and the final ingathering of the autumn. Traditionally, these are also the times we hold a special memorial service, Yizkor (“remember”), to recall our departed family members.
For those of us who have lost loved ones in the winter, there is no established observance at this time of year and so, in the spirit of the Reform movement, which honors both ancient and emerging traditions, TEE member and Soloist, Charlene Sommers, had the wonderful idea of adding a forth seasonal opportunity to remember. We will, therefore, be observing a “winter Yizkor” section of our service this Friday night.
While a formal Yizkor service wasn’t established until the Middle Ages, there was a rabbinic custom of prayers and philanthropy honoring the dead which was connected to Yom Kippur. We also know that from the beginning, Judaism has been a tradition in which remembering our forebears plays such an important role that we still call on God as the God of our fathers and mothers.
For those of a certain generation, it was believed to be unlucky or even forbidden to attend Yizkor services while your parents were still alive. While this reluctance still lingers in the culture, a more contemporary understanding of Yizkor sees it as a time to honor and remember both our individual losses and our ancestors more generally, those whose lives and struggles continued and enhanced the traditions we have inherited. For some, this is particularly important following the Holocaust’s devastation and the knowledge that so many Jews no longer have family members who can keep their memories alive.
Finally, I hope our Yizkor readings and songs will be a source of comfort in this midwinter season, when the warmth of spring can still feel far away. The Kaddish is not a litany of mourning but an affirmation of our gratitude for the lives of those we love as well as our own lives. In that spirit, I hope you will join us for this new winter ceremony.
Rabbi Drorah Setel