For us at The Temple in Atlanta, Mishkan HaNefesh provided us the perfect opportunity to utilize our current practices alongside the most innovative, thoughtful, and moving prayers and poems in the entire machzor.
While some have chosen to read the Seven Lights of Yizkor (beginning on page 536) metaphorically, we choose to actually light seven candles. This new ritual dramatically added to the power of the service. Seven members of our clergy each led one of the candle lightings. (This can easily be adapted for lay leadership). Each section contained an introductory reading, a musical selection, and then a few moments for personal reflection (see page 554). We actually read the reflection questions in each session out loud and allowed a few moments for silence. Finally, a member of the clergy recited the chatimah and then lit the candle.
We deliberately chose some readings from a wide spectrum – emotional, academic, helpful, challenging, and provocative. Each year, we will refine the chosen readings to reflect the year that has passed and the mood we hope to achieve. Some of the most evocative readings included:
- This is the Hour of Memory (page 541) to open the service
- The Echo of Your Promise (page 561) based on Psalm 77
- May God Remember (a two page spread with the relationships we remember at Yizkor)
- Forgiveness And The Afterlife (page 581)
- Father (page 589)
- One Morning Shortly After My Mother Died (page 592)
We invite you to see the yizkor service outline we used.
Additionally, there are certain customs we have established over the years that blended perfectly with the new liturgy:
- Members of our High School Girls’ Yizkor Choir sing two selections each year. After a rabbinic meditation on looking at our memorial booklet to view the names of those who passed away this year, the choir sang the poignant words of Take My Name by Juliet Spitzer.
- After the seventh candle, members of our Yizkor Choir recited 18 remembrances (Tapestry of Memories) from congregational eulogies spanning Yom Kippur 5775 to 5776. The selections were carefully chosen by the Rabbis and provided the most emotionally powerful moment of the service.
- Immediately after the eulogy selections, the Yizkor Choir sang “For Good” (from Wicked– with some of the text changed to accommodate the sacredness of the moment). At the end of the first chorus, the singing stopped, but the piano continued to play softly. The rabbis then read the names of our members who passed away since last Yom Kippur. With the recitation of the last name, the choir resumed the text and concluded the composition.
The feedback we received from the congregation was extraordinary. Hundreds of members went back to view the service – again – from the livestream feed on our website. I am grateful to the CCAR for the gift of this machzor as a tool to enhance what is arguably the most important 60 minute liturgical experience of the entire year. This hour was, without question, our most significant Yizkor service, ever!
Rabbi Peter S. Berg is senior rabbi at The Temple, Atlanta GA.