Guest Blog Post: Yizkor – Remembering Our Ancestors in Pandemic Times

This year, as always, at the end of Passover we will be called to remember deceased loved ones when we recite Yizkor/Hazkarat Neshamot, memorial prayers for ancestral souls (April 16 for those observing eight days of Passover; April 15 for those observing seven days). And while Yizkor is a communal ritual usually recited in a public prayer service, this year the last days of yontif will also be observed with social/physical distancing in effect. We won’t be standing in public space among friends, family and even strangers who can offer the comfort of community in moments of grief. Instead for those who do choose to say Yizkor prayers via video communities, we will be greeted by small images of other faces on a computer. Undoubtedly the “horizontal”, communal connection might be a bit more challenging saying Yizkor prayers this year.  But perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to focus more deeply — in a meditative way— on the “vertical” spiritual connection, on the connection between the world of the living and those beings in the world of souls, the world beyond.

As you recite Yizkor prayers this year, think of those those folks in your ancestral lineage that can offer you guidance at this time. As the currently circulating Facebook meme goes, we are being forced to stay at home and sit on our couches. But our parents, grandparents and other ancestors fought in wars, were victims of pogroms and Holocaust and a variety of other forms of cultural dislocation. In the Jewish tradition of ancestral intercession, those beings are available to offer us guidance and counseling, wisdom and inspiration.

Today, almost two million people on this planet have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and the numbers continue to rise. [When I first wrote this ten days ago, the number was one million.] Against this background, the message this year for Yizkor is to tune in to those relatives and loved ones on the other side of the transition between life and death and open to their blessings and guidance for this most difficult time. Allow a connection of the heart and spirit with those ancient souls on all sides of your family lineage, in generations long passed—not just the ones for whom you are saying Yizkor. These are the folks in the ancestral realm who can be invited to guide and protect us in our lives. In this third decade of the 21st century we are wandering in the wilderness of life on this planet, and like the ancient Israelites, we pray our journey will lead us towards the Promised Land—of healing, cultural cooperation, global unity and peace. But for now, we ask our ancestors of old to guide us on our journey, and with their protection we know we are not alone.

May you and your loved ones experience a safe and meaningful and transformational Passover this year.

Reb Simcha Raphael, Ph.D.
Founding Director
DA’AT Institute

About Rabbi Simcha Raphael
SIMCHA RAPHAEL, Ph.D., is the Founding Director of the DA’AT INSTITUTE. He has worked as a death awareness educator, bereavement counselor and hospice chaplain for over twenty-five years. Ordained as a Rabbinic Pastor by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, he received a doctorate in Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, and has written extensively on the topics of death, bereavement and the afterlife.

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