Yahrzeit

All posts tagged Yahrzeit

Religion? Belief? Spirituality?

Published 11/10/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

I’m writing this a few hours before the start of the most solemn day in the Jewish religion: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It is the last of the Ten Days of Repentance that begin with Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. These are days of introspection and repentance, a time when Jews the world over look back over the past year, examine their wrongdoings and look forward to the coming twelve months with every intention of being a better person. Depending on the level of orthodox or liberal belief, we are taught that these ten days encompass the period when the Book of Life is opened and those who will live or die in the coming year are inscribed on its pages. Yom Kippur commences at sunset on the previous evening and ends at sunset 25 hours later. During these hours we don’t eat or drink, and we spend the day in prayer.

This time of year also has a particular poignancy for me. My mother died two years ago on Erev Yom Kippur (the day before the Day of Atonement that begins with the evening Kol Nidrei service). One of the Yom Kippur afternoon services, known as Yizkor, takes place and provides an opportunity to remember those who are no longer with us. As my mother left this world the day before the Day of Atonement, and as this date is commemorated according to the Hebrew calendar, it means that I light a Yahrzeit (literally time of the year) candle in her memory. This is lit at sunset the evening before and burns for 24 hours. Although mum died on 3 October, the anniversary always falls on 9 Tishri (the day before Yom Kippur) in the Hebrew calendar

This morning I left home under a perfect blue sky with a glorious sun shining over my head. It was chilly, in keeping with an October morning, but it felt to me as if the candle I had left burning at home had been superseded by the sun reaching out to shine on me. In fact, I became quite emotional as I convinced myself of this, and consoled myself with the belief that my mother’s soul was reaching out to me.

This was merely the culmination of events that began a few weeks ago when I found a clothes hanger (that used to belong to my mum) hanging on the outside of my wardrobe. I have no recollection of putting it there. Then my daughter (who is very intuitive) told me that she was receiving messages from mum to be passed on to me. Finally, a few days ago I was aware of an aroma that immediately took me back to my grandmother’s (my mum’s mother) home. It wasn’t a food smell. In fact, I can’t describe or recreate it but I knew that I had last smelled it at Grandma Jenny’s, and she died when I was 16. By the way my eldest child was born exactly 10 years to the day after my grandma died.

Make of it what you will, I can only relate what I have known and experienced.

We never forget our loved ones

Published 16/06/2016 by damselwithadulcimer

If you’ve followed my earlier posts you will be aware of how my sister and I cared for our mother as she gradually declined and succumbed to COPD and vascular dementia. The lady who had insisted for years that she wanted to be cremated, had a change of heart in her final months and decided that she wanted a traditional Jewish burial when her time came to join her ancestors.

As Jews we followed the demands of a funeral as soon as possible after death. We sat Shiva, (the Jewish practice of mourning the passing of a close relative in a family home, whilst friends and family visit to pay their condolences, and a Rabbi attends to lead prayers in the evening), although only for one night and not the customary seven.

We also carried out the practice of erecting a headstone over our mum’s grave, but not until at least nine or ten months had passed. This is so the ground has a chance to settle. We gave the tombstone a great deal of thought, finally deciding on a colour that we thought mum would have liked, and choosing one that was not too high as she herself never grew beyond 4 feet eleven inches. In addition we took a great deal of care over the wording on, and the design of, the memorial monument. Apart from the traditional Hebrew lettering, we chose the epithet, in English, ‘To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die’. This has rung true more and more over the last year or so.

Mum is often in my thoughts and it’s hard to stop myself short when something happens and I would love to pick up the phone and tell her about it. She used to say the same thing to me in respect of her own mother.

My cousin recently reminded me that it was 45 years since her father, my uncle and mum’s brother, died. Returning to the Jewish religion, we mark the annual anniversary of the passing of loved ones, but we commemorate the date according to the Hebrew calendar. This is known in Yiddish as the Yahrzeit, literally the season. When the date comes round we light a memorial candle on the evening before the actual day (Jewish days begin at sunset the previous evening) and this candle burns for 24 hours. My uncle’s candle has now finished burning. I also asked the Rabbi to read out his name during the Shabbat service on Saturday morning, which is done on the closest Saturday to the Yahrzeit.

My awareness has now been brought to the death of my own father 34 years ago, the date of which will be commemorated at the end of this month. Once again his name will be read out before we recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead that is chanted both at funerals and Saturday morning and festival services, as well as on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), that most sacred of the High Holy Days, a time spent repenting and fasting. Included in the service is a portion known as Yizkor (a Hebrew word meaning ‘remember’). When I was a child my mother used to send me out of the Sanctuary for this section of the prayers as my  parents were still alive. Now that they are no longer with me, I remain, remember them, and grieve for what I have lost.

My own Liberal Jewish congregation also offers an alternative ‘spiritual and meditative experience’ to the Yizkor prayers on Yom Kippur. This is a much more intimate and inclusive occasion, and one which brought back the memories of mum’s death with deep poignancy when I took part last year for the first time since she had left us. Perhaps I should also mention that the Hebrew date of mum’s passing was on Kol Nidrei, the evening that commences before Yom Kippur, but which signals that the Day of Atonement has begun. So not only do I remember my mother at that holiest time of the Jewish calendar, I can never forget that was when she died too.

Therefore Judaism provides reminders of those who have passed, but who remain forever in our hearts.