Drash: Yizkor 5769 by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell

Yizkor (Memorial Service)

Yom Kippur

10 Tishrei 5769/9 October 2008

Temple Beth El

Harrisonburg, VA

Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell

I spoke this morning about Yom Kippur as a day of descent. For some, the destination of our descent is yizkor, this service of memory, of remembering. Just about every single one of us gathered in this sanctuary is here to intentionally remember—to bring to mind with a clarity that is facilitated by and on this day—to reassemble, in our mind’s eye, the stage on which we played with friends and beloveds, now gone. This day provides that state—it is up to us to recall the props, the staging, the lines and the cues. We address ourselves to this challenge as if—if we did it right, remembering the way the light glistened in her hair, the full laugh that so delighted—or embarrassed us—that ridiculous outfit, that keen sense of duty, that passionate involvement, that loving presence—if we could only remember it fully, we might bring our beloved back to us—for one last word, one final embrace, a request for forgiveness, a tear of regret, a burst of gratitude.

But we do not have that power. We have memory, yes, but not the power to bring back the days when our loved ones sat beside us, nudging, loving, cajoling, spoiling us, celebrating life with us.

So today we look for ways to honor the memory of those who enriched our lives with their presence. Now that they are gone, it is up to us to carry out their precious legacies. While we Jews often name our children after those who have passed away, how often are we equally intentional about picking up their dreams—and taking concrete, deliberate steps towards fulfilling hopes those we loved were not able to realize. Sometimes we fulfill the dreams of our beloveds simply by living full, purposeful lives. We know for whom we were the life project. Other times, it is easy—and joyful—to help realize their commitments, for we share the values that shaped them, and that shaped us. Sometimes, although we love them and miss them, the legacies of our beloveds are complicated and even challenging to our beliefs. Perhaps today will open a window to enable us to reconsider this legacy—and work towards transforming it—in memory of a beloved who loved to eat—or cook—we could work to end hunger, locally or beyond geographical boundaries. To honor the memory of one who was unable to show love, perhaps our involvement in or support of an organization that provides loving homes—for discarded people or abandoned animals—perhaps such work would work to heal our own deep sense of loss.

It is up to us to create living memorials to those we loved—to extend the influence of their goodness, their kindness, their passions—beyond the grave. And, if we can, to work towards repairing their broken dreams, by creating opportunities for others—in their name.

So on this day of memory, may we enters the doors of yizkor honoring that memory is a complex and challenging exercise. And that finally, each of us is enriched beyond measure because for some time we were privileged to share this world with each of those who is now gone.

Ashreinu. How blessed are we, for their lives, for their gifts, their passions, their joys.

May we be worthy guarantors of their memory.