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Yizkor and Yarhzeit

Yizkor is a memorial service recited on Yom Kippur and the last days of the Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot festivals. Yizkor, Hebrew for "remember", asks God to remember those we mourn and to grant them proper rest.

On this topic:

Death and mourning
Parenting: When children experience death


Many Jews who do not otherwise enter synagogue come for the Yizkor service. For many, the prayer represents a kind of pact; by remembering our parents, we ensure that we will be remembered in turn by those who follow us. Yizkor can also be a way to help a beloved ancestor, promoting good for that departed soul. (May the soul "be bound in the bond of life," says the prayer.) We may hope, too, that the loved ones will intercede on our behalf, or that the memory of their righteous deeds will bring us favor before God.

Why is Yizkor recited on these four holidays? These were days when most Jews gathered in the Temple (on Yom Kippur to see the High Priest's ritual; on the others for pilgrimage). It is impossible to approach God without experiencing conflicting feelings for the bereavement we have suffered. On some level, God is answerable to us for his judgments, and to encounter him without acknowledging the pain he caused us is to sadly narrow the scope of our relationship with him.

About the service

The service includes a statement of tzedaka, charity given in the memory of a deceased family member. Jewish memory is not a passive affair; we remember loved ones by acts of loving-kindness in this world.

First Person
It's helpful to light candles and step back and actually miss what we've lost instead of sublimating the loss and trying to go on with "business as usual."

--George H.

My great-grandmotherís yahrzeit was this past week. I was astounded by the memories that came flooding back to me. It's as though she were just around the corner the other day, almost within reach. I hadn't realized the tears were flowing down my cheeks until another member of our congregation reached for my hand to give a squeeze--I felt so grateful for the opportunity to focus on her memory with caring people close by.

--Melisa C.

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Yahrzeit is a memorial anniversary of death. On this day there should be no rejoicing, no eating of meat or drinking alcoholic beverages. There is a custom of kindling a yahrzeit candle a dark on the evening before the anniversary of death. The flame and wick symbolize the soul and body of the deceased.

One also recites the Mourner's Kaddish on this day.


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