By R’ Chaim Bruk
Yom Kippur 5782
It’s been a while since I last wrote, but Yom Kippur is coming soon, and I wanted to touch base. I am clueless as to how Yom Kippur is commemorated in your heavenly home, but I am certain you will visit with your parents, my beloved Bubbe and Zayde, and receive your father’s pre-YomKippur blessing as he’s wrapped in his kittel and tallis.
Our sages instituted the Yizkor memorial prayer to be recited on Yom Kippur to help atone for our loved ones who have passed on. I am pretty sure, Ma, that you don’t need atonement, but I will stay in shul nonetheless. Yochanan, Yanky, Rochel, Mushkie, and I, your five kinderlach, will stand in shul, thinking of you, pledging mitzvos on your behalf, and probably wiping away a tear or two. It’s the 11th Yom Kippur that I will be in shul memorializing you—my anchor, my friend, my mother.
Sadness is prohibited on Jewish holidays, but Yizkor is a unique type of grief that makes us feel better, even happier, unloading the burden of our memory and bringing us solace. In those seemingly endless five minutes of Yizkor, I will have to squeeze in so many thoughts:
Yizkor: I will remember that I was blessed with a mother who taught me the value of family and friendship. You would bite your lip all the time just to keep the family peace.
Yizkor: I will remember how much you cried for Chavie and me, at home and at the Rebbe’s resting place, because you wanted G-d to bless us with biological children.
Yizkor: I will remember how you’d schlep to your favorite boutique clothing stores—Widensky’s, Tuesday’s Child, and Nathan’s—so we were the cutest-dressed kids in the neighborhood.
Yizkor: I will remember how much you missed us when we moved to Montana but how proud you were to tell everyone about our accomplishments out west.
Yizkor: I will remember how hard it was for you when Aba’s business struggled in the 1990s and how, despite your misfortune, you stepped up to the plate to teach and tutor your beloved students, supplementing the household income.
Yizkor: I will remember how much Yiddishkeit meant to you. You loved its depth and imparted that to your children.
Yizkor: I will remember how much you disliked superficiality and begged your loved ones to be authentic and genuine. You never needed anyone’s approval to do the right thing.
Yizkor: I will remember how devoted you were to your five children. Even when we gave you a run for your money, we were the apple of your eye and always came first.
Yizkor: I will remember your decade of suffering and your fight for life. How, despite your pain, you always made your doctors and nurses feel appreciated.
I will stand in shul, Ma, on Yom Kippur and I will remember that I was blessed with a mother who believed in me and always demanded more of me. I will dig deep into memory-land and garner lessons from your fruitful life. Everything I do has a touch of my Yiddishe Mamme in it. You didn’t just give birth to me, raise me, nurture me, and love me; you, together with Aba, made me the man I am, and for that I will say Yizkor.
Members of our ever-growing shul will be standing around me, each in their own silent daze, thinking of their loved ones. I will, of course, think of my four grandparents, our Rebbe, and all those who died al kiddush Hashem, in Israel and abroad, bringing honor to our people and G-d. Yet, above all, I will think of you. Yom Kippur is about introspection and change, and my greatest encouragement to do better, to be better, and even to think better, is you.
Your kids are doing well, Ma; we are as close as ever. Your 22 grandchildren learn about you and will carry your legacy, and our four-year-old Chana Laya, named lovingly for you, is growing beautifully and keeping us on our toes. All five of your children have a child named for you. Life is different without you, and I don’t cry as much, but you’re in my heart 24/7 and I await our reunion with the coming of Mashiach.
I know you miss us, too. So please, Ma, say Yizkor along with us. Say Yizkor so that you don’t forget all our fun times together, and your yearning for us should be as strong as our yearning for you. I know you never wanted to leave, but don’t let distance, both time and space, hurt the precious memories of your amazing life on G-d’s green Earth.
Mommy Dear, peek into the Book of Life, if you can, and make sure your loved ones are signed and sealed. If there’s any trouble, use your well-deserved connection with the Al-mighty to set the record straight. We’re counting on you. May we merit the redemption, and I’ll see you in Yerushalayim!
Have an easy fast. We’ll talk at Yizkor.
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.