Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Divrei Harav -- November, 2010

[Blog Ed. note: This column deals with relatively esoteric material that really is most significant ONLY to members of my congregation. However, it does demonstrate some philosophical approaches to the general challenges of how we live our lives as Jews in an "open" community that may make it worth reading for non-members as well....]

Divrei HaRav – Words from Weisman

With the Holy Days over, and a little time as I write before the crush leading up to David’s special day (and I am also writing BEFORE the dinner in my honor, for which I will properly thank you all NEXT month!), I want to talk this month about the new Memorial Boards, and use their arrival as an opportunity to remind everyone of some of our standing procedures in regards to observances at worship.

My part in working to make these boards a reality was to clarify our yahrzeit observance policy, so that the folks at Baum could properly program our boards. And let me thank them up front – they appear to have gotten it EXACTLY right, and done so in a manner that actually ADDS to our opportunity for appropriate remembrance as individuals and as a community.

You see, our pattern is based on two overarching principles – utility and inclusion. Utility, in that we made a decision a number of years back, to read all yahrzeit names (whether or not there is a plaque for the person) on the day of (for Friday yahrzeits) or the Shabbat before the yahrzeit is observed. In this way, the reading of the name in public serves as a reminder (along with the reminder letter everyone should be receiving in advance, and the list printed each month in Temple Topics) of the upcoming yahrzeit, allowing those who wish to light candles in their homes or make contributions in memory of loved ones to do so in timely and appropriate fashion.

Inclusion takes on two specific forms. First, our policy is to read and remind for all yahrzeits of current members, as well as all those for whom a plaque has been purchased in our congregation. We view your plaque purchases as creating a perpetual memorial, and we will uphold that request and honor that responsibility.

We also seek to be maximally inclusive by allowing our members to observe yahrzeits according to either the English or Hebrew calendar. This DOES make our efforts a little more complicated, and made programming the boards significantly so. We assume English calendar as the default – as long as that is your date of preference, you need do nothing except make sure we have accurate records of your loved ones. If you ask us to notify you and observe your yahrzeits according to the Hebrew calendar, we will gladly do that as well.

This creates one small wrinkle in our observance pattern – since Hebrew calendar dates start at sundown the evening before and end at sundown, if a Hebrew yahrzeit falls on “Friday,” it will be concluded before Friday night services begin, and therefore will be read on the preceding Friday evening.

To accommodate this choice and wrinkle in the lighting of our new yahrzeit boards, the folks at Baum have programmed the yahrzeit “week” that the light is lit to begin at 4PM on the Friday prior to (or of) the yahrzeit, and run until MIDNIGHT of the following Friday. This allows all of our cases to be properly lit.

It also provides an additional opportunity for those of us who may not be able to make it to services on the Friday before a loved one’s yahrzeit – because the light will still be lit on the FOLLOWING Friday night as well (but not Shabbat morning!). And therefore, we get an “extra chance” to make our yahrzeit observances appropriate and active. I will even read the name that following Friday night if I get the request before services begin, so that I can add the name to the pulpit list for that night!

As long as we are clarifying and reminding, a few quick notes about names of those who are ill for the Mi Shebeirach list. Anyone can add a name any time before services begin. If the person being added is either a Temple member, or an immediate family member of a congregant (parent, spouse, sibling, or child), or a former Rabbi or someone similarly connected to our congregational family, as long as the name is received in time for inclusion, it will be listed in the announcement sheet, and will remain on the list until you ask the Rabbi or Elizabeth to remove it.

With a very few exceptions for those members who have made their general or specific preference NOT to be listed clearly known in advance, we will not check before adding, preferring to err on the side of inclusion. If you hear your own or a loved one's name read and would prefer it not be, please talk with the Rabbi.

All other relatives, friends and neighbors of our Temple family are listed on the bimah. These names are not included in the announcement sheet, and are read out loud only when the person who placed them on the list is present at services. This decision was taken to keep the list reading to a manageable length. I always include a line before we recite the prayer that includes those whose names have not been read in our prayers as well.

In the case of both yahrzeit and Mi Shebeirach lists, when there is a Shabbat morning service, the same names read on Friday night are read on Saturday morning, except for Friday English calendar yahrzeit observances, and “secondary” Mi Shebeirach names.

I hope this column helps us all to understand the ritual workings of our observances in and out of the sanctuary for the sick and the deceased. As always, if there are any questions about Jewish practices or our unique Solel practices, I hope you will ask me.

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