Celebrating the holidays without a loved one is understandably, painful. Year after year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the prescribed times to reflect on life and remember loved ones, are spent with family, it’s a Jewish tradition. While this tradition continues amongst the living, the absence of those that have passed, is noticeable. After losing a beloved family member or dear friend, it is compelling to revive memories and honor that individual during the holidays, so it feels like they are still a part of these special times. On Yom Kippur, reciting Yiskor and the lighting of Yahrzeit candles are dedicated practices to remember the deceased, but there are also additional ways to incorporate their lives into the new year activities.
Many Jewish people visit the cemetery prior to the High Holidays, on the day before Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Visiting the family’s cemetery plots, connects us with the holiday themes such as renewal and reflection. Also, some congregations will hold Kever Avot (which translates to ancestors’ graves), communal memorial services at this time of the year. At synagogue on Yom Kippur, attending the Yiskor (the Hebrew word for “remembrance”) service to recite prayers that strengthen the connection between ourselves and those that we have lost, or putting a name in the program or Book of Remembrance produced by the synagogue, are conventional ways to memorialize those that we have lost.
Around Yiskor, some people will also give tzedakah (charitable donations) to honor and perpetuate the values of their loved ones. Donations to synagogues, hospitals, or charities are a meaningful and long-lasting way to commemorate family members. Purchasing a Yarzheit plaque offered by one’s synagogue is a permanent way to preserve a loved one’s memory. Depending on the type of plaque, it may be lit around the time of the individual’s Yarzheit and during the four Yizkor services that are held throughout the year.
Each of the prior events happen outside of the home, but memorializing takes place within the home as well. It is customary to light memorial candles, but you can embellish by placing pictures of loved ones nearby. If there is an area where guests congregate during holiday meals, place family albums out and spend time sifting through them and retelling stories. Generally, most family members are gathered around simultaneously, making it the perfect time to link generations by recalling memories about those no longer here and sharing them with children.
It is also possible to celebrate the life of those no longer physically present by continuing the traditions that they created or by using their holiday paraphernalia. Setting the table with their linens, china, or silverware adds a special touch to holiday dinners. Preparing dishes with their recipes or serving their favorite foods can resonate strongly with all that will get to enjoy. Additionally, the continuation of special holiday rituals like singing, provides comfort and enhances the connection to those individuals.
Don’t be afraid to both maintain and create new traditions. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the perfect times to introduce new ways to preserve memories and create connections that future generations will observe in your memory one day.
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Star of David Memorial Chapels, Inc. is located in Long Island, New York. In addition to providing resources to help you navigate topics related to death and Judaism, we are here to provide guidance with any of your Jewish funeral planning needs. Contact us at (631-454-9600).