Delivered at Services at Yom Kippur Yizkor -Memorial Service 5772 – October 8, 2011, by Rabbi Barry H. D. Block
At this solemn hour of memory, we gather in our holy Temple to remember our beloved dead. But we do more than remember. We are transported into the past. Yes, we experience the pain of our loved ones’ absence most acutely during Yizkor. At the same time, though, we may also feel that our departed loved ones are sitting beside us, sharing this sacred holy day.
In our mind’s eye, we envision a time gone by. Many of us recall the way that our parents or our grandparents, now departed, taught us reverence for our Jewish faith and for these High Holy Days. Others are particularly aware of the husband or wife, the loving partner who made our holiday observances complete. Some, who have been forced to bury a child, call to mind the wonder of sharing Judaism with the next generation. We all share bitter-sweet memories of High Holy Days past, of the loved ones and the friends who made our celebrations special, but who are with us no more.
During this hour of Yizkor, nobody will demand that we get on with our lives. Instead, in the quiet of this Temple, we are free to be alone with our memories, reunited with our loved ones, if only for an instant.
Woody Allen, of all people, has given us a new way to embrace these moments of returning to the past, of living once again with those who are now dead. His latest film, Midnight in Paris, tells the story of a Hollywood writer, Gil, struggling with himself as a man and as an artist. On vacation in Paris, Gil finds himself magically transported in time – at midnight – back to a golden age in the 1920s, when Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso made great art, side by side, in the bistros and cafes of Paris. Gil is smitten. He wants to live in the Paris of the past. He falls in love, too, with Adriana, a mistress cast aside by both Picasso and Hemingway. From the ‘20s, Gil and Adriana find another window in time, and are deposited in the 1890’s, “La Belle Epoque,” the beautiful era, in the presence of Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas and Gauguin. Adriana elects to stay in what she considers to be the golden age. Gil, however, comes to a realization: He has been enriched by his encounters with the great artists of the early 20th Century, but his life is in the 21st. Gil returns to the present day with new inspiration and with a heart open to love in his own time.
On this Yom Kippur, we, too, may experience the glories of the past. At this hour of memory, let us revel in the celebrations of our earlier days, the joys of decades gone by, the love we have known. On this day of fasting, let us drink deeply of the cup of heavenly bliss, which we tasted here on Earth with the men and the women and the children who filled our lives but who are with us no more.
But then, of course, Yizkor will end. We will return to the waning moments of Yom Kippur 5772, right here in San Antonio, Texas in 2011. We will come back to living our lives in this world, in this year. We will re-awaken to a world without our departed loved ones. But not without their inspiration.
We can continue to live with the passions and with the priorities of our beloved dead. Their values need not be left here in the Sanctuary when Yizkor comes to a close.
If we will live with devotion to God, with fidelity to our Jewish heritage, as many of our beloved lived in their finest hours, then they will live in us.
If we will pursue our chosen tasks with the creativity and commitment exhibited by so many of our dear departed, they will live in us.
If we are honest and generous, good and kind, in the noblest tradition of those who went before us, they will live in us.
If we will celebrate life’s joys, observing our Holy Days with customs cherished by generations and with observances we embrace anew, they will live in us.
If we will hold our families close, letting our losses strengthen our loving, then they will live in us.
If we will open ourselves to new love, and to new life, then they will live in us.
As we leave the darkness of Yizkor, our metaphorical midnight on Yom Kippur, let us march into the brightness of day with renewed purpose, inspiration rekindled, new love. Then, truly, they will live in us.