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My Father's Yahrzeit

As I mentioned back in the post "Reflections on the Memorial Prayers and Honoring One's Parents" (October 15), this past Friday night and Saturday was my father's yahrzeit, or the Hebrew calendar anniversary of the date of his death. We had planned some special things for the day, and I thought people might be interested in knowing how it all turned out.

Friday evening, Nomi and I had a quiet shabbat dinner at home, by ourselves. (We also had a houseguest who arrived a little after 9 pm, as expected, but more on that in a later post.)

Saturday morning, the weather was drizzly and humid, and a lot warmer than usual for late October. We walked over to our shul and arrived as we always try to do, before 8:45 am, when Shachris (the morning service) begins. We didn't quite have a minyan when we got there, but the man who typically leads the first part of the service started anyway, and then we waited for a full minyan before reciting the kaddishes.

Now, as I mentioned last week, for these morning prayers I chose to honor my father's memory by wearing his tallis, or prayer shawl, instead of my own. The only tallis Dad ever had was the one he received for his Bar Mitzvah in 1942. It took me a while to realize that the tallis I was wearing was sixty-five years old, and still in excellent shape. As I prayed, I kept hugging it around me, feeling the presence of my father and my mother around me.


My Father's Tallis My Father's Tallis
Photo copyright ©2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.



My father's tallis also has a special tallis bag. Most tallis bags I've seen are decorative but impersonal. Here's the one that my father owned, which is now mine.


My Father's Tallis Bag My Father's Tallis Bag
Photo copyright ©2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.



As you can see, the bag bears his initials, JDB, for Joel David Burstein. I presume his parents got it made for him in honor of his Bar Mitzvah.

Of course, since it was my father's yahrzeit, I was entitled to an honor during the service. Referring back to my previous post, there comes a point in the service when we read the week's portion from the Torah scroll. The portion is divided into seven parts, and seven different people are called up to receive the honor of reading from the Torah. Being called up to the Torah is also referred to as being given an aliyah, and the plural of aliyah is aliyot. (The word "aliyah" means ascending.) Most of us who are called up don't actually chant the Torah portion ourselves, though; that's usually done by someone who has practiced in advance. In this particular case, a young man was celebrating the anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah, which took place a few years ago, so he did most of the chanting.

The first two aliyot in our shul are reserved for direct male-line descendants of the Kohanim and Levites, and although I have ancestors from both, I myself am not a direct male-line descendant of either. So I couldn't be called up for either of the first two aliyot.

I would have liked to have been called up for the second aliyah, which is about Abraham arguing with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. When my father died, the rabbi who did the service began by noting that he had not known my father, but had come to understand through talking to my family that my father was very much like Abraham in that story. My father, he said, was a man who challenged God to deal with the world justly, and who tried to correct the injustices he found in the world around him.

Instead, I got the third aliyah, in which the angels warn Lot that they are going to destroy Sodom and they advise him to take his family and get out of town. I suppose I could find some meaning in that story too, if I really wanted to. I'm just content to note that it was right next to the second aliyah.

After the service and the kiddush socializing, Nomi and I returned home for lunch and a nap.

Our shul is on the top of a hill, so we don't usually manage to make it back there in the afternoon and evening (especially as there are other shuls that are easier to get to). But this past shabbat, we went back for the afternoon service (Mincha) and the evening service (Maariv), because in between Nomi was giving a D'var Torah, or a lesson about this week's Torah portion, during the third meal (which is called shalosh seudos). Nomi spoke about the Jewish concepts of justice, in honor of my father, whom she never met. She told me that she hopes to post her remarks on her blog later today, so when she does I'll link to them for anyone who wants to read them.

Shabbat ended while we were still in the shul, and so we joined in the community Havdalah ceremony. Then we returned home, with another anniversary of my father's passing marked and gone.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein

Comments

Thank you for sharing this, Michael.
I appreciate this post. Your explanations are clear and informative. Although half of my cultural/religious heritage is Jewish, I know very little about Judaism and I always wish that I knew more. This post helped, thanks.

It sounds like your father was a good man.


For basic questions about Judaism, I usually send people to http://www.jewfaq.org. It's a very helpful site.

Thank you for your reply. I like to think my father was a good man. I know he was a fighter for justice.
These posts are always so lovely to read :)
thanks for the lovely post. I really feel that both your father and mother were in shul in spirit. How wonderful to be able to express your feelings so cogently and to lead others to understanding. I also admired Nomi's d'var torah when she read it to me. Love. May it be the case that your father's neshama (soul) had an aliyah on his yahrzeit, and is in a higher plane through your actions and his example to you.
I'm glad the tallis was resilient enough for you to use.
The tallis hadn't been used in years, so it didn't suffer from the wear and tear you might have expected to find. It's a little yellow with age, but that's about it.

I suspect that if I put it back into storage, it may well last another 65 years.
That would be really amazing.
What a beautiful way to commemorate a yartzeit. And using a tallis your father used at his bar mitzvah sounds like a powerful experience.
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