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Methods of Remembering

Ellen Levitt

Posted on May 25, 2021 13:24

3 users

Our ways of remembering people who have died are rooted in tradition, but still evolve.

During this past year-plus, we have witnessed many Covid-19 deaths. We've also seen how memorialization is ever evolving and adapting. When people have been unable to gather together closely for memorial ceremonies, they've taken to technology (especially Zoom and Google Meet) or fashioned socially distanced ways of coming together.

With that in mind, I wanted to memorialize the passing of my father, Ed, who died ten years ago yesterday (according to the Jewish calendar). I conferred with my younger brother, created a Zoom meeting link, and asked family members and friends to join us in the evening for a Yahrzeit (annual memorial) service and an online slide show.

Jews mark the deaths of family members (as well as friends and revered rabbis and teachers) via the codified Yahrzeit ceremony. For many this includes reciting memorial prayers (the Kaddish), lighting a candle, giving money to charity, and speaking about your memories of the person.

About a dozen family members, friends and I came together on the Zoom call. I lead a slightly abbreviated Evening prayer service ("Ma'ariv") and then my brother and I chanted the Mourner's Kaddish. It's actually a prayer in Aramaic, not Hebrew. 

After that, I showed an online slide show that I'd assembled, with photographs of my father from his toddler years through his early 80s. I included such artifacts as his Winthrop Junior High report card, Tilden High School diploma, his honorable discharge from the US Army, his professional engineering certificate (he was a structural engineer by trade), and photos of him with my mother, his mother, his sister, and other family members. 

We spent about 40 minutes on this, sharing memories of Dad, and it was mostly light-hearted. I did emphasize his interests and how he interacted with us. 

In some ways, it would have been better in person. But the Zoom call brought together people in various parts of New York City, suburbs and even California. I thanked everyone who attended.

How should we remember significant people in our lives who have died? There are a variety of ways, many rooted in tradition, especially religious rituals and ethnic customs. But our ways of formal and informal remembrance are ever evolving. People create communal works of art; contribute to Memory books and quilts; post on their social media accounts; cook meals; and other activities. 

Should such remembrances be overcome with emotion? What activities and items should be included or excluded? What gives such remembrances gravity or meaning, authenticity or inspiration? What should the participants gain from such ceremonies?

The last few slides I showed featured woodwork pieces created by my dad. He'd carved some of our Hebrew names out of  wood, as well as phrases and words such as Shalom. Dad loved to do his woodworking projects, we all had such pride in his output. I have so much furniture that he either built or renovated, and it's one of the ways in which we appreciate his life.

May your remembrances be meaningful.

 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on May 25, 2021 13:24

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