For those with the sad duty of reciting Yizkor, a new book of essays by Rabbi Norman Lamm is a fitting synagogue companion.
Yizkor, the memorial prayer recited four times a year – on Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret – is an honored part of the liturgy in the Ashkenazic community. A remembrance of one’s deceased relatives (with more-recent additions for people who died in the Holocaust, Israeli soldiers who fell in battle, and other individuals), it calls on God to remember the soul and on the petitioner to give charity on behalf of the departed person.
In “Memory and Meaning: Essays by Rabbi Norman Lamm” (Koren) Rabbi Wolowelsky, dean of faculty at the Yeshivah of Flatbush and a graduate of Yeshiva University, has collected 19 sermons that Rabbi Lamm, retired president of Yeshiva University, delivered before yizkor in the years he served as spiritual leader of the Jewish Center on the Upper West Side.
The sermons, philosophical and inspirational, were designed to set the mood for the mourners who would remain in the sanctuary while the other worshippers, mostly those whose parents were still alive, stepped out.
Yizkor, Rabbi Wolowelsky writes in his introduction, “is not simply a time for remembering those who are no longer with us,” but an opportunity to reflect on mortality and on one’s relationship with “the eternal Creator.”
The book includes the Hebrew and English words of Yizkor, as well as selected Psalms and other relevant prayers, with a preface by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.