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Making My Peace With Yizkor


Shmini Atzeres will be the fourth time I stay in shul for Yizkor. My father, Hy (Chaim Shlomo) Baras, died in Adar a year and a half ago. For the first year, my brothers and I did not say Yizkor. We began on Pesach and then again on Shavuos and Yom Kippur. I dreaded that first time. I’m a private mourner and I didn’t want to share or publicize my grief.

As I murmured the Yizkor prayer on the last day of Pesach, I had a strong sense of my father’s presence. I very much subscribe to the tradition which holds that the souls of departed family members attend family celebrations. I felt my father’s neshama at the bris of my grandson (Chaim Shlomo), and I had a similar feeling at Yizkor – that my father’s spirit was invoked by my thinking of him. Two weeks later, I dreamt about him. I rarely remember my dreams but I had a vision of my father lying in a hospital bed asleep. I was sitting in a chair next to him, stroking his hair and talking to him, and he gave a little smile even though his eyes were closed and he was unable to move. That’s it; that’s the whole dream, but it was so vivid and, by its very appearance, comforting, as if he had visited me.

One reason we recite Yizkor is to prod ourselves to repentance, which is particularly meaningful on Shmini Atzeres, when the Heavenly Appeals Court goes on hiatus. Did reciting Yizkor inspire me to repentance? I didn’t feel particularly changed but I was awed by what I consider to be an encounter with the metaphysical. Birth and death are transitional passages between life as we know it and The Beyond. As I davened for my father’s ever higher place in Gan Eden, Yizkor gave me a script, an ability to concretize my thoughts about his neshama’s journey in a dimension unknown to me.

Was it moving? How can you not be moved by an absolutely silent congregation of orphans listening intently to the chazan chanting, “May Hashem remember the soul of my father, my teacher. May his soul be bound in the bond of life together with the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah; and with the other righteous men and women in the Garden of Eden.” You’d have to be dead yourself not to be touched by that sentiment.

I don’t dread saying Yizkor anymore, but I can’t say I look forward to it, though I’ve already taken and survived my maiden voyage. I would prefer pondering my father’s life as well as his absence more spontaneously. But I know now what I’m in for. I know that the words are powerful, and that I am in the company of other mortals who are conjuring up their own memories and their own intimations of mortality. Both the words and the surrounding company give me strength. May they all, including the memories, be for a bracha.

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