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Yizkor: We Should Remember the Best Version of Our Loved Ones

A Torah scroll. Photo:

In the Ashkenazi tradition, the Yizkor service stands out as an emotional highlight of each festival. On specially designated days, those who have lost parents, spouses, siblings, or children remain in the synagogue to recite memorial prayers, while those whose parents are still alive respectfully leave the sanctuary. The Hebrew word “Yizkor,” meaning “will remember,” initiates each prayer, emphasizing the enduring memory of those who have passed away and ensuring their remembrance even in their absence.

In the introduction to my latest book, Hearts & Minds on Jewish Festivals, I explore how deeply personal memories integrate into the observance of festivals. Reflecting on memories of shared experiences with my family throughout the Jewish calendar year over many years, I highlight the profound impact these memories have each time these festivals roll around again. Each treasured moment recalled enriches and profoundly enhances our celebrations:

These memories and so many more turn each festival and each significant Jewish date into a rich blend of history, tradition, Jewish laws and customs, memories, nostalgia, and new experiences. Every wine stain on the pages of the Haggadah we use, every forgotten High Holidays schedule tucked into the pages of the maḥzor, the special yomtov-connected drawings our kids made in preschool that reappear at the relevant time each year, the smell of yomtov food cooking in the kitchen—all these elements form a vivid mosaic of our Jewish experience, adding color, context, and depth to the practical aspects of the festivals and notable Jewish dates that punctuate our lives.

These reflections invite us to consider the dual nature of memory — with its inevitable mix of accuracy and embellishment — and the significant roles our remembered versions of events and experiences play in shaping our lives.

Psychology researcher and science communicator Dr. Julia Shaw, known for her exploration of memory and particularly false memories, addresses these themes in her book The Memory Illusion. She investigates how memories can be distorted, fabricated, and influenced by various factors.

Dr. Shaw explores the phenomenon of people recalling events that never happened, discussing the implications for fields like criminal law and our understanding of personal history. Interestingly, she suggests that these alterations in memory are not always detrimental; often, they serve to highlight the most favorable aspects of our loved ones and our past.

In eulogies, we often commemorate our loved ones in the most favorable light possible. The memories we recall are inherently selective and somewhat distorted, as they portray an idealized version of our departed loved ones — a version we all hope to be remembered by one day, when it is our turn to be eulogized.

When someone highlights less flattering aspects of a deceased person during a eulogy, it can shock the audience. I recall a funeral years ago for a university professor of mine, a celebrated scholar of history. His grandson’s eulogy began by acknowledging his grandfather’s reputation as a brilliant intellect and a fount of knowledge — then it shifted to a more personal note: “But there was more to him than that,” he added. “I will always remember him as the old man with dandruff on his jacket, who could be quite irritable and impatient. That was my grandpa.”

As he spoke, I couldn’t help but think, along with everyone else, “Is this really the memory to share at his funeral?”

The podcast Where There’s a Will, There’s a Wake, hosted by English actress Kathy Burke, is premised on a novel concept: “If you could plan your perfect death, what would you do?”

Each episode features celebrities who are asked to imagine their own untimely demise, take charge of their hypothetical funeral arrangements, choose their preferred way to go, create playlists, and even listen to eulogies prepared in advance by their friends.

While intriguing, this concept starkly contrasts with reality — where the memory of who we are is shaped by others, typically our family members, who preserve and interpret our legacies. Nevertheless, these curated memories, richly assembled from diverse perspectives, still do not capture the complete truth. Despite varied viewpoints, no two people will ever remember someone in exactly the same way.

During our festive gatherings over Yom Tov, we often find ourselves immersed in family stories, both old and new. As we enjoy each other’s company and celebrate together, these time-honed tales are shared and reshaped with each retelling. Over the years, details are embellished, and characters grow larger than life, creating increasingly engaging narratives.

This process not only entertains but also strengthens family bonds, imparts values, and fosters a sense of continuity and belonging. Enriched memories become an important part of our collective family heritage, celebrated during these special occasions.

The Yizkor service utilizes the power of memory to connect us with those who have passed on. We engage deeply with our memories, idealizing and appreciating the positive aspects while overlooking the flaws. This idealization is not without merit, as highlighted by a remarkable passage from the Talmud.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 92b) unpacks Ezekiel’s seminal “dry bones” prophecy. According to the biblical narrative (Ez. 37:1-14), Ezekiel is brought to a valley filled with dry, lifeless bones and asked by God if these bones can live again. He responds that only God knows, prompting God to command Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones. Miraculously, as Ezekiel prophesies, the bones reassemble, grow flesh, and are infused with life, becoming a vast army.

This vision is interpreted in the Talmud as symbolizing the Israelites from the tribe of Ephraim who, driven by impatience, had tried to conquer the land of Israel prematurely at the dawn of Jewish history. Their failure and demise are represented by the dry bones, which are then miraculously revived by Ezekiel.

The question is: Did this event actually happen, or is Ezekiel’s vision merely symbolic? Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nehemiah view the entire episode as a metaphor, suggesting it never actually occurred. Then, unexpectedly, Rabbi Eleazar, son of Rabbi Yosi HaGelili, asserts that the narrative is true, and that the revived bones went on to marry and have children.

This claim is further complicated by Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira, who claims to be descended from those supposedly metaphorical figures, and adds that “these are the tefillin that my grandfather bequeathed to me from them.”

The thirteenth-century rabbinic luminary, Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (Rashba), clarifies this debate by suggesting that some aggadic passages are significant not necessarily because they occurred, but because they represent events that could have transpired. This idea means these stories transcend mere metaphor. They are potential narratives that impart lessons and carry deep messages, regardless of their historical authenticity.

In the specific case of Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira claiming to have inherited tefillin from descendants of those revived by Ezekiel, the Rashba seemingly interprets this not as a literal historical claim but as a narrative device intended to convey deeper truths or lessons about faith, continuity, and the transmission of tradition. The focus is on the value and impact of the story rather than its factual accuracy.

This approach to memory and narrative is crucial, especially in prayers like the Yizkor service, where we remember our deceased loved ones in the best possible light. It’s not about facts, or about history — but about values and heritage.

By remembering our loved ones as the best versions of themselves — whether these memories are entirely accurate or somewhat enhanced — we not only honor their legacy but also inspire ourselves to aspire to these ideals. This process elevates the souls of the departed and enriches our own lives, demonstrating the power of memory to shape not only our perception of the past, but also our actions in the present and our aspirations for the future.

The author is a rabbi in Beverly Hills, California.

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Assault charge laid, arrest made related to incident near the University of Toronto encampment—while its president speaks in Ottawa on antisemitism, and the school seeks a removal injunction

Toronto Police have arrested and charged a man for assault over an incident May 9 near the protest encampment at the University of Toronto’s King’s College Circle on its downtown campus.  Toronto Police Services (TPS) say they responded at 3:45 p.m. that day to a call for assault in the area of the road around […]

The post Assault charge laid, arrest made related to incident near the University of Toronto encampment—while its president speaks in Ottawa on antisemitism, and the school seeks a removal injunction appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘Any Chance the Media Would Cover This?’ New Video Shows Terrorists in Gaza Using Humanitarian Aid to Help Prepare Rockets

Terrorists in Gaza using humanitarian aid bags to prop up rockets. Photo: Screenshot

Terrorists in Gaza have been using humanitarian aid bags to prop up rockets they were preparing to shoot at Israelis, new video circulating on social media reveals, underscoring the challenges of delivering aid to Palestinian civilians in the Hamas-ruled enclave without it being stolen.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade — which is the armed wing of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbasused bags from Turkey and UNRWA — the UN agency responsible for the Palestinians — to prop up the rockets, according to the video.

At least three of the bags say they contain “wheat flour,” and the bag from Turkey specifically says it is supposed to go “to the Palestinian people.” It is unclear whether the bags had previously been opened to extract the food and then refilled with sand, for example, or if it still contained the food that was intended to feed Palestinian civilians.

“Any chance the media would cover this, yet another violation of international humanitarian law?” pro-Israel commentator Hen Mazzig wrote on X/Twitter while sharing the video.

Rafah, Gaza: Hamas is using UN humanitarian aid bags as rocket launchers today.

Any chance the media would cover this, yet another, violation of International Humanitarian Law?

— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) May 29, 2024

Almost every day for the past seven months, Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist organizations have been shooting rockets into Israel from civilian areas, which is a war crime. Tens of thousands of Israelis are internally displaced and unable to return to their homes as a result.

There is mounting evidence that Hamas has also operated in civilian clothing and in civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. However, these violations of international law are rarely noted by much of the media.

The latest video of terrorists using humanitarian aid for military purposes underscores the issue of making sure such aid gets to Palestinian civilians. 

The US built a pier to deliver 2,000,000 meals daily to Palestinian civilians, but after a few weeks of operation, the Pentagon said none of the aid unloaded from the pier had made it to those who needed it. On one occasion, about 70 percent of the aid has been stolen while en route to a UN warehouse. In other cases, it just never showed up.

Israeli estimates suggest approximately 60 percent of the aid that has gone into Gaza has been stolen — either by Hamas or other groups and individuals. Oftentimes, that aid is then sold to the population at high prices, making it difficult to impossible for most Gazans to gain access to it. 

According to Ehud Yaari, an expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hamas has made more than $500 million in profit from selling humanitarian aid since Oct. 7.

The terror group began the war last October by massacring 1,200 people in Israel and taking more than 250 people hostage, about half of whom have still not been released.

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Columbia University Anti-Zionist Group Endorses Hamas

Demonstrators take part in an anti-Israel demonstration at the Columbia University campus, in New York City, US, Feb. 2, 2024. REUTERS/David Dee Delgado

Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has endorsed Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace antisemitic violence.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

.@Columbia and @BarnardCollege, @ColumbiaSJP is actively promoting terrorism and anti-Israel rhetoric on their social media channels. They are sounding more and more like Hamas spokespeople every day. When is the university going to permanently ban this “student group”?

— Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus (@CampusJewHate) May 26, 2024

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has reformed under multiple organizations since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, has been central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The group’s behavior after Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the StandWithUs Center for League Justice (SCLJ).

The complaint alleges that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, the pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library, according to the lawsuit. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

Following the incidents, pleas for help allegedly went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while SJP held its demonstrations. The school’s apparent powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events while no one explained the inconsistency.

The explosion of end-of-year protests held by the group forced Columbia officials to shutter the campus in April and institute virtual learning. Later, the group occupied Hamilton Hall, forcing President Minouche Shafik to call on the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for help, a decision she hesitated to make. According to The Columbia Spectator, over 108 arrests were made.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Amid the chaos, a prominent rabbi at the school urged Jewish students to leave the campus for the sake of their safety. Ultimately, the university cancelled its main commencement ceremony.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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