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In Judaism, mourning is both private and public. When we visit a grave or observe a yahrzeit — the anniversary of a person’s death — we generally do so in private. Yizkor is the public observance for the community to come together to remember its loved ones. Yizkor means “may God remember,” and it is the name of the memorial service that we hold at Temple four times a year: on Yom Kippur day, Simchat Torah/Sh’mini Atzeret morning, the last day of Passover, and the morning of Shavuot.
Originally, Yizkor was recited only on Yom Kippur. Its primary purpose was to remember the deceased by committing tzedakah (charity) funds on the theory that the good deeds of the survivors elevate the souls of the departed. It also enhanced the chances for personal atonement by doing a deed of loving-kindness. Since the Torah reading on the last day of the pilgrimage festivals (the holidays of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot) also mentions the importance of donations, Yizkor was added to these holiday services as well.
Dating back to medieval Germany, there was a custom for each community to read a list of its martyrs at the Yizkor service. The practice was eventually expanded to include the names of other members of the community who had died. Today, most synagogues distribute a list with the names of those who are being remembered by congregants.
The Yizkor service itself consists of four parts:
Although in its traditional structure Yizkor does not include the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish (the memorial prayer in praise of God), many congregations do add this as the climax of the service.
Our religion provides us with many opportunities to remember and honor those who are no longer with us. Traditionally, those who have lost a dear loved one recite Kaddish every day for one year after the passing of a spouse, child, parent, or sibling. We not only recite Yizkor prayers on Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance, we also have an opportunity to recite Yizkor during the major festivals of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot.
In addition to the Yom Kippur Yizkor service, Yizkor services will also be held at Temple at 10:30 am on the following days during 5783: Monday, October 17, 2022 (Sukkot); Wednesday, April 12, 2023 (Passover); and Friday, May 26, 20223 (Shavuot). If you have experienced the loss of a loved one this year, we hope you will join us and find comfort at these additional services where your loved ones’ names will be read, and you will have a chance with your community to simply, humbly remember.
Grief can be devastating. Basic beliefs are challenged, emotions can feel out of control, and energy is depleted. We know that shared experience and education can be helpful during bereavement. Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Bereavement Support Group can provide mutual support and education to those who have experienced a loss during the last 18 months. Limited in size, the program recognizes each person’s unique way of grieving and provides a confidential and respectful environment for the bereaved to explore their feelings, begin working through complex issues of loss, and start to heal. If you are interested in participating, please contact Marsha Humphries, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 202-896-6303.
Washington Hebrew Congregation is grateful for the opportunity to provide support to its members who may be in need during their time of grief.
Friday, May 26
10:30 am - 12:00 pm
3935 Macomb Street NW
Washington, DC 20016
11810 Falls Road
Potomac, MD 20854
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