Yom Kippur

All posts tagged Yom Kippur

YYY

Published 01/10/2017 by damselwithadulcimer

Why YYY? The above heading may baffle you, so I’ll try to enlighten you.

As a Jew we have just celebrated(?) the most solemn and serious festival in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, during which we spend 25 hours (from sunset the previous night until sunset the next day) fasting and repenting our sins. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and festivals always commence at sunset on the day before the actual date. Worship begins with the Kol Nidrei service, which coincided this year with the start of the Sabbath on Friday night, and then resumes the following morning (in our case at 10.30) to continue throughout the day until sunset, when the end of the festival is announced by the blowing of the Shofar, a ram’s horn.

Shofar

Twenty-five hours without food is not as arduous as it may seem as you are focused on the prayer book, the liturgy and the songs. The hardest part is going without fluids, but the drop in blood sugar can make you feel a little as if your brain has turned to a mush as the day wears on.

My second ‘Y’ is for Yizkor, the Hebrew word for remembrance. One of the constituent parts of the afternoon service on Yom Kippur is the Yizkor service, when we remember those we have loved, both friends and family members, who are no longer with us. As a child my mother used to insist I left the sanctuary for that portion of the prayers as I still had my parents. It can be an upsetting time as we are encouraged to meditate on, and say prayers for, those who are no longer with us in bodily form.

My final ‘Y’ is Yahrzeit, which is literally the Yiddish word for season. We commemorate the anniversaries of the deaths of our loved ones by lighting a special candle, a Yahrzeit candle or a memorial light, on the anniversary of their deaths according to the Hebrew calendar. My mother died on the day before Yom Kippur, so her Yahrzeit will always fall on the Hebrew date of 9 Tishri, although the English date was 3 October. We light the candle at sunset of the evening before, but as we also light another candle in memory of everybody we are remembering, I light another one the following evening at the start of the Yom Kippur festival.

Yahrzeit candle

All three are now over for me for another twelve months, or thereabouts, but I always approach this time of year with trepidation and unease as there are too many burdens and sad memories to be overcome.

As the inscription on my mother’s tombstone reads: ‘To live in the hearts of those we love is not to die’. To sum up, we may feel grief when we remember our loved ones who have now departed, but they still remain with us.A

 

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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.

‘May the Almighty comfort You among the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem’

Published 15/10/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

How on earth do you plan and prepare yourself for the funeral of a parent? It’s a rite of passage that has to be worked through, but you’ve never done it before and nobody has given you a blueprint or a template.

For years Mum insisted that she wanted to be cremated as she was confident that nobody would visit her grave, and she even pre-paid the Coop for a funeral, making sure I knew exactly where to find the papers. However Jews somehow usually return to their roots, especially where death rituals are concerned, and around the turn of the year Mum decided that she wanted a full Jewish funeral.

This was a little problematic. Many Jews (even secular ones) belong to a synagogue as the membership includes a contribution to a burial society. Mum had resigned from her local Shul quite a few years ago as she argued that the membership was too expensive. On making enquiries I was told that the funeral she wanted would probably cost about £16,000 so I contacted her local synagogue, and the United Synagogue Burial Society to re-enrol her. They were able to trace her original membership but were a little vague on when she joined and left so we agreed on a lump sum that would cover the missing years, with a moratorium of six months. All that was then left was to make sure she stayed with us until the end of July. Obliging mother that she was, she added on another couple of months.

She also kept insisting that she wanted to be buried with her parents and grandparents in an East London cemetery that is now closed. Although we frequently reminded her of this, she kept reiterating her wish. Eventually she agreed on a compromise: she would be laid to rest in the same burial ground as her brother.

As the months wore on it became apparent that Mum’s health was deteriorating and this gave me an opportunity to think ahead and to try to imagine how the funeral would be. In my mind I was trying to rehearse my farewells, but nothing prepares you for the time when it arrives.

On the morning that she died I was very aware that the Burial Society needed to be contacted before we could proceed beyond the issuing of the Death Certificate. When a local undertaker was appointed to us we made it clear to him that we are Jewish and would make our own arrangements, whilst liaising back and forth with the Society and arranging a date. We always bury our dead with as much haste as possible, but the following day was both Yom Kippur (the most solemn of Jewish festivals) and Saturday – the Sabbath. The logical step would have been to arrange the funeral for the Sunday, but my eldest son had arranged to fly back home from South America on that day. Mum had always made him promise that he would say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) for her so we had to delay until the Monday.

I must have been on some kind of auto-pilot that day. I had to get to the deli to collect the food that had been ordered. We always celebrate, or commiserate, with victuals: fish balls, cake and beigels with smoked salmon, cream cheese, egg and onion and chopped herring are served with gallons of tea. As a child I remember Mum insisting that tots of brandy and whisky were also available for the men when they returned to the house of mourning. I also had to call at the synagogue to collect the mourners’ chairs (the next of kin sit on low chairs in a house of mourning) and the prayer books.

The other preparations include covering mirrors, making sure a pair of candles are ready to be lit before evening prayers, and keeping a Yahrzeit or memorial light burning.

My sister arrived with one of Mum’s eldest friends, who had made the journey from the south coast to say her farewells and the three of us prepared the food and left everything ready for when we would arrive back home.

The funeral was at 3 in the afternoon on a drizzly miserable day, but at least the rain stopped by the time we reached the cemetery. Usually my first sight of a coffin is enough to make the tears flow, but somehow it didn’t happen this time, probably because I’d been with Mum after she died and had said some of my farewells to her then. The first thing to happen was that Kriah was performed. We had a cut made in our clothes, after which we recited a prayer and then tore the cut with our hands to express our grief.

Following on was the first part of the funeral service (where men pray separately from the women in the Orthodox manner), after which my mother was laid to rest. My sister and I were offered soil from the grave and we each took three hands full to throw on the coffin. Then any males who wished to were invited to fill in the grave with spades full of earth.

The service concluded with a return to the prayer hall where my son recited Kaddish twice and the other mourners were encouraged to pay their commiserations to the two of us as we sat on the low mourners’ chairs. My son read the eulogy I had penned for Mum, and added a few words of his own from the grandchildren’s perspective as he believed mine were not a sufficient expression of what she had meant to us. He reprised this again after evening prayers, and I’m including the full text at the bottom of this blog.

Back home to comforting cups of tea and the food we suddenly realised that we needed by that time of the afternoon. A few people returned home with us and eventually we were left alone until the mourners and the Rabbi arrived for 8pm prayers. On both occasions I was concerned that there would not be a Minyan (the requirement for ten men to be present for orthodox prayers) but friends, family and my husband’s Masonic Lodge all rallied to the cause and we had more than enough. My son was called on to recite Kaddish a further three times, so Mum had her wishes fulfilled fivefold. And I was deeply moved when I watched the back of my cousin’s head bobbing up and down as he prayed for mother’s soul.

Of course there were occasions throughout the day when the tears fell of their own volition, but friends and family encouraged them. The kindnesses of everybody, the instinctive understanding that nothing more nor less than a long and loving hug was needed, and the words of comfort from those who had previously experienced the same bereavement and grief were solace in themselves. If I were more orthodox in my Jewish beliefs I would even have wanted to join the congregation of the Rabbi who conducted the funeral service, or the one who attended in the evening.

We only said prayers on the one occasion and didn’t sit Shiva for the full week. Our family is now so small that there wouldn’t have been enough people to visit every night, but part of me yearns for that week long indulgence. It’s a way of coming to terms with your loss, of mourning the dead, and of letting life and grief flood over you before you feel the need to start to return to the real world with all its mundane duties.

The Eulogy

Phyllis Frankel, daughter of Simey and Jenny nee Angel, entered this world on the first day of the 1926 General Strike; her Uncle Jack often used to relate how he had to cycle to see his sister, Jenny, at Mother Levy’s, the Jewish Maternity Home in Whitechapel. Mother and daughter returned home to live at 39 New Road, a place Phyllis frequently returned to in her memories.  Before her dementia became too advanced she would recall running up the steps, through the front door and then down to the basement kitchen, where her grandmother, Rebecca Angel, would be sitting or preparing food. Phyllis had an older brother, Albert, and a sister, Doris, who died of meningitis before her younger sibling was born.

Phyllis’s first school was Myrdle Street, then predominantly Jewish and now a Muslim girls’ school. Her Grandma Becky could see into the school playground from her house in parallel New Road and would often throw her an orange.

A change of address saw the family running (and living above) the Crown and Dolphin pub at the corner of Cannon Street Road and Cable Street, where Simon was registered in the Phone Book for 1934, and then moving a little further north to run businesses in Wood Green and Edmonton. When Simey suffered his first heart attack Phyllis insisted on leaving school to work at the Post Office and contribute to the family finances, but her furious father insisted that she enrol at Pitman’s College to learn shorthand and typing, after which she went out to work as a secretary. Some of the longest enduring of her female friendships date back to those days. This was also the period when she started to smoke, much to the disapproval of her parents.

During the war she worked for a seed company, which was classed as war work, so she never entered the armed services. However it was during the war years that she first met her future husband, Bob, at the Royal Tottenham. Theirs was a very on/off relationship, with him frequently going AWOL so that he could see her, and with her throwing engagement rings back at him and being forced to choose between him and whichever other boyfriend was pursuing her. She eventually agreed to marry him, flying to Dublin for their honeymoon in August 1947. Their first home was again over another Hackney pub that Jenny (by now widowed) was running with her son Albert. She gave birth to their first daughter, Sandra, in January 1952.

Phyllis and Bob migrated south over the River to Forest Hill and then to Catford, where daughter number two, Judith, was born in June 1955. The family remained in South London, moving first to run a sweet shop in Tulse Hill, and then to Phyllis’s dream house in Streatham, whilst she also returned to office work. However the dream was shattered when the marriage ended in divorce in 1968. She carried on with her independent life working variously as a legal secretary, an employment agency manageress and a typing pool supervisor. Yet she kept a secret hidden for many years: she had a gambling habit. Everybody thought she worked at two jobs (at night she would undertake bar work or cashier in a restaurant) to save enough to buy her own home, but she was spieling most evenings after work and crawling to bed in time for a few hours’ sleep before heading back to the office. Eventually she accepted her addiction, joined GA and curbed her habit. But she still couldn’t resist the lures of the National Lottery.

She then lived variously in Putney, Richmond and Barnes – always remaining close to her beloved River Thames and refusing to move back to North London. After retirement she wasn’t content to sit in a rocking chair and knit clothes for her four grandchildren – although she frequently got out the wool and needles for her own children when they were small. Despite gradually becoming disabled with arthritis and COPD she still insisted on shopping in Kingston once a weak, hailing a Com Cab at Richmond station on the way home, courtesy of her Taxi Card. She also enjoyed her weekly outings on the free bus to ASDA at Roehampton, when she had the opportunity to chat and laugh with friends, thanks to the helpful bus driver who secured their tartan shopping trolleys. She loved Tony Bennett, opera and classical music and often had to turn down Classic FM in order to hear phone callers.

Most friends and family (many of whom are now no longer with us, are too infirm or live too far away to be here today) probably recall a strong-willed, bull-headed (she was born under Taurus), judgemental, tenacious and fiercely independent lady clacking around on her stiletto heels. She told it as it was, was quick to criticise others, and did not care who she offended or upset. Friends sometimes feared for her outspoken tongue when she was out in public, but her diminutive stature (all four feet eleven inches of her) belied what her GP recently referred to as ‘her indomitable spirit’. And this spirit kept her fighting until the very end. She should have given in peacefully weeks ago but fought to stay with us, although longing to be reunited with her beloved Grandma Rebecca and adored Auntie Ettie. Eventually the COPD and Vascular Dementia won and Phyllis is probably looking down on us now, criticising these words and making remarks about the clothes some of us are wearing. And if you are there Mum, thanks a bundle for dying Erev Yom Kippur and making Judith and Sandra pull out all the stops to make the necessary arrangements in time. You always did things your way.

Final Days

Published 12/10/2014 by damselwithadulcimer

Before I visited Mum after our return from holiday I phoned my sister to ask what I should expect. She thought I might notice a deterioration, but I wasn’t prepared when I went to see her on the Monday after we came home. I hadn’t seen her for two and a half weeks, but she had declined rapidly. I had been told that she had become even more demanding and that her carers were remaining with her constantly during her waking hours, which tended to be at night as she was sleeping a lot during the day. I had also been informed that she had a pressure sore at the base of her spine, which was being treated and dressed, but which was causing a lot of discomfort as she was propped, or was lying on her back most of the time. The carers were turning her and trying to move her onto her side, but she wasn’t comfortable in that position.

When I walked in to her room on that Monday her carer was trying to feed her; before I went on holiday she had always fed herself. I was terribly distressed to see her eyes: her beautiful green eyes were heavy, lifeless and sunken and I was struggling to hide my tears. Most of the time I was there I sat next to her and held her hand and she returned the grasp as firmly as she could.

The District Nurse had visited that morning and diagnosed another infection, which I was assured was causing much of the confusion she was exhibiting. I collected her prescription from her GP, took it to the pharmacist, and then back to the GP surgery as the wrong medication had been prescribed. Firstly they tried to fob me off, but I stressed the need for Mum to start on her tablets immediately, whereupon I was told that there should be a prescription for antibiotics at the chemist’s shop, but there wasn’t and the pharmacist had to contact the practice again before he dispensed the correct pills. Once back at her bedside with the medicine she had difficulty swallowing, and the carer had to request dispersible tablets, which arrived before the end of the day.

I visited again on the Thursday and was equally upset to see her. The nurse’s notes implied that she was a little better, but she seemed worse as far as I was concerned. Once more her carer was trying to feed her some soup with bread, but she just didn’t want food. She frequently asked for sips of her drink, interspersed with requests for a cigarette, although she had been unable to inhale for some weeks. Ever the polite, well-brought up lady, demands for anything were always suffixed with the word ‘please’. Frequently she was unable to speak, either from lack of breath and strength, or because the dementia was robbing her of language. She was dreadfully uncomfortable and her carer and I tried our best to settle her. Thanks to the hospital bed we were able to raise her head and shoulders to different degrees, plus to prop her with her pillows, or to turn her on her side to take the pressure off her lower back. She urged us to sit her up and then gestured with her hands if she needed to be higher or to be lowered.

Again I sat at her bedside and held her hand as long as she wanted me to. She seemed to drift from time to time, but never managed to fall into a proper sleep. At one point she appeared to drowse and asked audibly to ‘Take me there, take me there’. A while later she opened her eyes and pleaded with me to ‘Knock me out. Put me to sleep.’ I was unable to hide my emotions and she asked why I was crying, at which point the amazing Emma responded quickly ‘It’s hay fever’ and I rapidly improvised, pointing out that it was early Autumn and something in the seeds or the air was affecting me.

During that last afternoon I believe that her cat was aware what was happening and what was going to happen. She stayed close, at times on the bed (with mum caressing her with one hand and holding mine with her other) or under it or on a chair in the room.

The weather was bright and gentle that day, although I’ve been aware over the last few weeks that the year is starting to draw in and it has provided an apt analogy for Mum’s life moving towards its close. There have been some perfect autumnal days, the sort of time of year Mum would have called ‘Yom Tov weather’ as we often have an Indian summer around the time of the Jewish High Holy Days in September or October.

I must have fallen into a very deep, if apprehensive, sleep that night and missed phone calls on my mobile in the next room. I was suddenly dragged from my slumbers by the sound of the telephone ringing in our bedroom. It was still dark and I fumbled around the room, minus my glasses, groping for the phone. It was 6am and the voice at the other end was my sister’s urging me to come to Mum’s. Obviously she realised that I hadn’t understood and had to break the news that Mum was no longer with us. Nobody had tried to contact me on the landline and my sister had fully expected me to be at the flat, or on my way.

The two minutes spent brushing my teeth seemed like an eternity when I wanted to be on my way. I hurriedly dressed, no time for contact lenses, which would probably not stand up to the tears I knew would flow, grabbed a box of tissues and left the house. As well as still dark, it was also misty and I couldn’t drive off until my windscreen was clear. After a few minutes I realised I was dreadfully thirsty and blundered into an open shop for a bottle of water, not stopping to wait for my change, and then dropping my purse in the road in my rush to get back into the car.

I hadn’t expected there to be so much traffic on the road at that time of the morning and I have no idea how I managed the fifteen mile drive; it all seems rather hazy now. Arriving at the block of flat there was typically no parking space close to the front so I had to drive to the back, acknowledging the police car parked by the entrance. Rushing inside I was advised to take my time by the police officer in the lobby, and entering the flat I was confronted by the carer who had been with Mum at the end, her boss and another police officer.

Dee, who runs the care agency, was amazing to have left her bed at that time of the morning just to be at Mum’s, and she offered to cancel her appointments and stay with us (we declined as she has done so much and still had a business to run). The carer was visibly shaken to have encountered her first dead body, and the WPC was equally supportive, despite having lost her own father a few months previously. The police were called as Mum hadn’t been seen by a GP for some time and had died at home. An ambulance team had also attended before I arrived and taken a heart trace, confirming that it had been slowing down during the hour prior to death.

I don’t know how we got through the day. In an order I can’t even remember the Community Matron arrived to comfort us; the GP phoned to offer condolences and promised that she was sending the Death Certificate to the Coroner; we telephoned and spoke to the United Synagogue for guidance on what should happen next; a local undertaker arrived and advised us of the order of proceedings, although we were insistent that Mum was having a Jewish funeral so that his involvement would end there. My sister had to be firm with the Registrar’s office as we needed them to issue us with the Death Certificate and the Green Form on that day. It was tight as it was not only Friday, and the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, but it was also erev Yom Kippur, the day before the most solemn festival and fast in the Jewish calendar, and we knew that the relevant offices would close well before sunset.

We divided the hours between phone calls, official as well as to friends and family, and emails to family overseas. We said our goodbyes to Mum. I sat with her for some time, desperately trying to warm her up, and brushing her hair. She looked peaceful, although much older, but the puffiness had gone from under her eyes and her face was relaxed. I stayed with her after my sister had left for the Registrar’s office, massaged her hand through the sheet, convincing myself that it was getting warmer. I didn’t want the Rabbis to come from the Burial Society, although I knew their arrival was imminent. I kissed her forehead several times, refused to leave the room while they wrapped her in a sheet, and insisted that they were gentle with her as she was so tiny and frail. I watched while they carried the stretcher to the waiting ambulance and then she was gone. And then I threw myself onto her bed with my head on the V pillow where she had lain until a few minutes previously, and cried and cried for my mother who has now left this mortal world and is finally enjoying the peace she so desperately needed.