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    Memorial prayers on Yom Kippur

    Yahrzeit lightThe Yom Kippur liturgy includes Yizkor, the memorial prayers.

    Many Holocaust survivors used to appear in the synagogue in time for Yizkor and then just as suddenly vanish until next time. The influx was noticeable and predictable, and I could never bring myself to denigrate it.

    A large number of those who came and went, had their faith in God knocked out of them. They didn’t want to know about prayers and synagogues any more.

    What they came to the synagogue to do at Yizkor time was to ritualise the pain by giving it a day and a moment.

    It was also a tribute to the religious Jews who had been martyred – and to the religious communities, institutions, books and practices which the Nazis, cursed be their memory, had targeted for destruction.

    How to approach the Yizkor moment was taught to me by a dear colleague in Sydney, who served the same synagogue as I and lived in the flat upstairs from ours.

    On Shabbat we would walk home together through Kings Cross, where a corner shop was doing a brisk trade in cooked (t’refah) chickens.

    My colleague told me, “You see the owner of that shop? Before the Sho’ah he was a talmid chacham and even now when he goes home on a Saturday afternoon he smokes a cigar and studies Gemara.”

    “So what happened to him? The shop open on Shabbat? The non-kosher food?” I asked.

    “You forget,” said my colleague, “he went through the Holocaust”…

    The evanescent crowds don’t come to the synagogues for Yizkor any more: is it the passing of time (and of the survivors)? The passing of the rebellion? Who knows?

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