by Aharon Loschak – chabad.org
One of the most time-honored and widely attended synagogue traditions is Yizkor, the hallowed prayer that memorializes departed loved ones in the presence of the Torah scrolls and fellow Jewish mourners. This year, this prayer will be performed at home.
For the first time in modern Jewish history, as the result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, virtually all synagogues around the world will be shut on the final day of Passover, when Yizkor is recited. Never in living memory has there been a situation in which in most places throughout the world there is no one to go to synagogue and recite the sacred memorial prayer.
Does that mean that the Yizkor prayer itself has turned, ironically, into a memory as well?
Not at all, say rabbinic authorities. Jewish law is clear that unlike the Kaddish prayer, a quorum is not a requirement for Yizkor. When it is impossible to attend synagogue, as it is this year, it is entirely possible, and encouraged, to recite the prayer at home along with a mental pledge to donate funds to charity in memory of the departed after the holiday.
Through mass emails, social-media posts and personal contact, rabbis across the world are letting their congregants know that this year, like every other, they still have the opportunity to memorialize their loved ones. To do so, they are directing Jewish mourners to online resources available, such as the “Yizkor at Home” guide at Chabad.org.
It’s a lot of material to chew through, but Rabbi Mendel Kaplan on Chabad.org has done the heavy lifting and has produced a lecture that dives deep into the source material from which he brings his audience to the following conclusion: When even remotely possible, Yizkor is indeed best performed in the synagogue. But when not, it is perfectly legitimate and equally special right in one’s own living room.
‘I Will Hold the Scroll for You’
Some rabbis have taken matters a step further, capitalizing on the reality that they hold the keys to the synagogue buildings they serve in, thus offering their congregants the following option:
“I am volunteering to serve as your proxy and representative in offering the Yizkor prayer for your loved ones in our shul while clutching the Torah on your behalf.”
In his weekly email, Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum, leader of the Chabad Heights synagogue in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., let his congregation know that “on Thursday morning, I will walk to our Chabad Heights synagogue, where I will pray in physical solitude in compliance with the critical social-distancing measures in force. Spiritually, however, I will have you and your family very much in mind and heart.”