Breaking Down Yizkor
Literally meaning “may [God] remember,” Yizkor is a powerful service for communal mourning for all those who have lost a close family member. Yizkor was introduced into the Yom Kippur service as a way to honor the deceased by committing to giving tzedakah in their memory, enhancing the chances for personal atonement by performing deeds of hesed. It’s now recited four times throughout the year, on Shemini Atzeret, Pesah, and Shavuot, in addition to Yom Kippur.
The structure of Yizkor has four main components:
- A collection of psalms, recited and chanted, that prepare us spiritually and emotionally for the space of personal and collective memory.
- Silent recitations of “Yizkor et Elohim,” longer paragraphs specifically written for memorializing a father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, other relatives and friends, and Jewish martyrs throughout history.
- The essential prayer recited at Jewish funerals, El Malei Rahamim (God, full of compassion) is chanted.
- The final section of Yizkor includes a recitation of Psalm 23 and in some cases the Mourner’s Kaddish, although it is traditionally not considered part of Yizkor.
Have you ever noticed that some people leave the room right before Yizkor? Some people who have not lost a parent, spouse, sibling, or child choose to leave the sanctuary during Yizkor so as not to tempt the “evil eye” or merely because the service does not pertain to them.