pronouns: they, them, their

Remembering: A Yom Kippur Reflection

Jewish Holiday

Rev. Chani Getter, LCSW

October 4, 2022

On Sunday afternoon, the Eve of Rosh Hashanah, I found myself driving down to the southern New Jersey cemetery where my maternal grandparents are buried. It is customary to go to the graves of loved ones before the High Holidays, but I rarely actually do this ritual. I have been known to visit loved one’s burial sites on their Yahrtzeit (the anniversary of their death). 

I was not close with these grandparents and in the many years that they have been gone I have only taken the trek to visit their final resting place two other times besides this one.

As I made my way down the NJ Turnpike in the rain, I wondered what I was doing, what was propelling me to go see them. I was angry… hurt… frustrated… and dealing with some childhood wounds. There was a part of me that thought it would be a good idea to go there and yell at them… tell them what they had done wrong… reckon with them… 

I arrived. As I pulled in, the rain stopped. The place was deserted. Mine was the only car in the entire cemetery. It was only hours before the sun set, everyone was home getting ready for the holiday having done this ritual, days or even weeks earlier. 

I drove to the very end of the cemetery where my family’s plot is. I saw their last name and paused. I walked out of the car, still wearing the kippa I wore to an unveiling I had officiated earlier that day.

I circled to the back of their graves, noticing the writing engraved on the back of each of their stones and began to weep. Sobs overcame me. I saw the words in Hebrew. 

On the back of each of each of their gravestones is engraved:

May this stone also serve as the marker for the holy ones who were killed for the sake of the Holy One… 

And a list of the names… names of my great-grand-parents (their parents) my great uncles and aunts (their siblings) etc…. a list of people I never met, whose lives were never mentioned because of the horrific way in which they ended.

The grave of my grandparents, marks not only the place where their bodies are buried, but also serves as a memorial to their family that was killed in the Holocaust. In this, their death they shared more with us, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren about their pain then they ever did during their lifetimes.

I cried because they were mere teenagers when the Nazis invaded their homes and they were taken to Auschwitz. 

I cried because their parents, some of their siblings, most of their families were murdered within days of each other (such was the fate of Hungarian Jews). 

I cried because they did not know how to heal from the atrocities they witnessed and survived. 

So damaged and desperate by the gravity of the trauma that they cleaved to one another and had four children in a displaced person’s camp in Germany (one of whom is my mother) as they waited and waited to find out where they could go to start to rebuild their lives.

I cried because they lived in abject poverty in the projects of Brooklyn, raising 13 children in a 2-bedroom apartment, and yet were grateful to have a safe home. 

I cried because they and others in similar grief and trauma forged a community of survivors. This community, into which I was born, understandably built a legacy of fear of the outsider. 

I cried for their unspeakable pain.

I cried for their immeasurable suffering.

I cried for my mom.

And for the first time, I cried for the little child in me born into this legacy of such unfathomable woundedness.

As I cried, I was filled with compassion, for myself, my siblings, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins and the community from which I hail.

As I paused and walked to the front of their graves, I felt myself fill with empathy and forgiveness.

“Thank you for setting me free.” I whispered as I walked away.

“Thank you for setting me free.”

Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness; it is also the day when we recite Yizkor (the remembrance prayer) for loved ones who have died. 

As we enter into Yom Kippur, I bless us to forgive the ones who came before us, to remember their stories, and the reasons they might have behaved the way that they did.  Not necessarily for their sake, but for ours… so that we may be set free.

May we all be inscribed in the book of life.

Living fully and authentically, 

Chani

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