In Judaism, mourning is both private and public. When we visit a grave or observe a yahrzeit – the anniversary of one’s death – we generally do so in private. Yizkor is the public observance, the memorial service, for the community of bereaved. Yizkor means "may God remember." It comes from the root word zachor (to remember). The service has four parts:
- A series of readings and prayers that sets the mood for the solemn service.
- Passages that are read silently, recalling a departed father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, other relative, a friend, or Jewish martyrs. Each person reads the passages that are pertinent.
- The chanting by the cantor of El Male Rahamim (God Full of Compassion).
- The congregational recitation of Av HaRahamim (Ancestor of Mercies) as a memorial for all Jewish martyrs and Psalm 23.
Although in its traditional structure Yizkor does not include the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish, many congregations – including Washington Hebrew Congregation – do add this prayer to the service.
We recite Yizkor not only on Yom Kippur, but also on the festival holidays of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot.