By Cantor Penny Kessler
Eighteen years ago, when I first led Yizkor on Yom Kippur at my current synagogue, I admit to having been startled by an exodus from the pews. Our congregation recites Yizkor immediately after the Torah service, before the scrolls are returned to the ark and right before musaf (a supplemental service added by some Jews on holidays). I had always understood yizkor as – unlike the individuality of yahrzeit (the yearly anniversary of a death) or sh’loshim (the month-long mourning period following burial) – a communal experience. With its acknowledgment of the deaths of parents, siblings, other relatives, friends and our Peoples’ martyrs, Yizkor was something all Jews could share, especially during the overwhelming 25 hours of Yom Kippur. And yet people left. When gently questioned, most of those who left (some returning following Yizkor, some going home even though the service would continue with musaf in my relatively “traditional” shul) told me – and here I paraphrase – “my parents are alive and – well, you know … kinnehura.” (“Kinnehura” is a Yiddish term said to ward off the evil eye, or bad luck.) That other loved ones were memorialized within the Yizkor service, not just immediate relatives, specifically parents, didn’t make a difference; there was something about the spiritual power that caused people to exit.