Oy, another Yizkor! Didn’t we just recite Yizkor on Yom Kippur? It is easy to become overwhelmed with the proximity of the fall Jewish holidays: Selichot into Rosh Hashanah into Shabbat Shuva into Yom Kippur into Sukkot into Shemini Atzeret into Simchat Torah. For many, the sheer volume of holidays is just too much, and regrettably, Sukkot sometimes suffers from what I term “overjudafication” (my own word). Sukkot is such a beautiful experience for the senses, coming after the intensity of Yom Kippur. We build a sukkah and eat in it, shake the Lulav and Etrog, inhale the fragrant aromas of both the Etrog and the myrtle, sing a lot during services, parade around the sanctuary, and dance with the Torah as Simchat Torah concludes this joyous celebration. And then there is another Yizkor, coming a scant 13 days after the same service on Yom Kippur.
Most authorities suggest that the first observance of Yizkor was established on Yom Kippur after the Crusades, as the Jewish communities of Europe mourned the loss of so many. Acts of tzedakah, giving money to those in need, became a customary way to honor the memory of the deceased and offer earthly encouragement that the soul be continually protected by God. We read this passage when we recite the personal Yizkor: In loving testimony to his/her/their lives, I pledge tzedakah on behalf of the recalling of his/her/their soul(s). The Jewish community would also gather in large numbers on the Pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. The Torah reading that each of these days share also speaks about giving tzedakah to those in need, and most likely the recitation of Yizkor evolved to be recited on the last days of each of these festivals in consonance with the Torah portion.
We speak in our daily prayers of the merit of our Biblical ancestors. I would hope that we can equally speak of the merit of our deceased loved ones, and emulate those worthwhile characteristics that they embodied, keeping the dignity of their names alive and bringing honor to God and the Jewish people. While the proximity of these two Yizkor recitations is so close that some might consider the one recited on Shemini Atzeret (Monday, October 1, 2018) to be superfluous, I urge you to reconsider. Join us for services to not only conclude Yom Tov in the proper manner, but to once again appropriately recall our loved ones in a service that dates back hundreds of years. May your concluding days of Yom Tov be joyous.