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Yizkor (YK 5781)

Yizkor, a time of remembering. This year we have much to recall. A year when millions tested positive for COVID-19 that required hospitalization and hundreds of thousands died worldwide from this pandemic.  A year where many died alone, because family was barred from entering the hospital or nursing home. A year where families could not go to the cemetery to bury their loved ones and then had to mourn apart from one another.  This has been a painful year for many.  And if this health crisis were all that we faced, it would have been enough.

But this has also been a year where the taking of black lives became a part of the public consciousness.  It is not a new phenomenon, it has been going on for decades, depending upon your perspective some would say centuries.  But it reached a critical juncture and became part of the mainstream and so we not only mourn those lost to COVID-19, but also those who were lost to violence against blacks. Black Lives Matter became a term embraced by the mainstream Jewish community for the first time.

This has also been a year when people have died from civil unrest, again not a new phenomenon, but one more pronounced and public perhaps. Peaceful demonstrations devolved into riots where not only rioters were killed, but also peaceful demonstrators and members of law enforcement. The 60s were a very turbulent time in our country’s history, not one that we should aspire to return to.

This has been a year where our divided and divisive country has felt more broken and at odds with one another than we were before and that is a sad commentary because things were not good to begin with. We mourn the loss of civility and unity. We yearn for a simpler time when differences were a matter of discussion and debate, not a source of hatred and violence.  

The stories of those who have died this year are often tragic. Many of the BLM deaths have been in the headlines, but others who have died have not.  In June Marc Thiessen, a columnist for The Washington Post, wrote:

My heart breaks for George Floyd and for any Americans who fear they might become the next George Floyd simply because of the color of their skin.

My heart also breaks for Dave Patrick Underwood, a black officer in the Federal Protective Service who was shot while guarding an Oakland, Calif., federal courthouse during the unrest in his city. His sister posted on Facebook: “My brother … was murdered … while on duty during the riots. This Violence Must Stop.” A second, unidentified officer was also shot alongside him and is reportedly in critical condition.

My heart also breaks for David Dorn, a retired African American police captain who was killed in St. Louis while protecting a friend’s pawnshop from looters. His death was captured on Facebook Live, during which an onlooker, his voice shaking, cries out, “They just killed this old man at the pawnshop over some TVs … c’mon man, that’s somebody’s granddaddy.” Indeed, Dorn was a father of five and had 10 grandchildren.

My heart breaks for Chris Beaty, an African American former offensive lineman for Indiana University, who was shot dead in an alley in Indianapolis after leaving a demonstration that had turned violent. My heart breaks for Italia Marie Kelly, a 22-year-old black woman in Davenport, Iowa, who was shot in the back while getting into her car, trying to escape a protest that had turned into a riot. Her mother, Sharon, tearfully told the local news, “She was here trying to protest peacefully. These idiots just want to take it out of control and bring guns to a situation that don’t need to be here. This needs to stop. It needs to stop now before another mother has to grieve like I do, and cry over her baby gone.”

In the US alone more that 200,000 people have died. Here are recollections of a few as captured by ABC News:

David Freeman

David Freeman, 46, superintendent of the Flour Bluff School District in Texas, died on Aug. 5, the district said.

"We are heartbroken and grief stricken over the sudden loss of our fearless leader," the district said in a statement. "Although he was our superintendent, he was first and foremost a loving and devoted husband and father. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Cassie, and their three children--Callie, Brock and Jenna."

Corey Pendergrass

Corey Pendergrass, an officer with Florida's Lauderhill Police Department since 1997, died on July 26. The 51-year-old "was one of the most humble officers on the planet and was loved by everyone,” spokesman Lt. Michael Santiago told the Sun Sentinel. "It’s taken a huge toll on the entire department, including the chief."

Mac Hodges

Mac Hodges, 69, the mayor of Washington, North Carolina, died on Aug. 12, the city said.

"We are heartbroken," read a statement from the city. "But, we are also thankful for his amazing leadership, vision and most importantly the friendship he provided, always with a smile, to everyone he met."

I recall reading a story of an ICU nurse holding a phone to the ear of a dying patient so that Vidui, the deathbed Jewish prayer, could be recited since no family or clergy could be at his bedside. Or the Orthodox nurse that took it upon himself to recite the prayer on behalf of his patients in NYC.  

I met with families that were heartbroken that they could not be there at the end with their loved ones; and others where not all family members could be at the cemetery for the funeral; and many who could not be together for shiva. We mourned not only the loss of our loved ones, but the ability to mourn them in our traditional ways, making the losses even more difficult than usual.

We have lost members of our community – we remember the passing this year of Harvey Miller, Herb Kreger and Leon Gottlieb.  [We also have members who have lost loved ones….]

Finally, at this moment, we turn inward and think of our personal losses. Whom do you remember at this moment of Yizkor – a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse – each of us has been touched by death, pained to have loved and lost.  May we all be blessed with good memories of our loved ones. ALUASA!

Wed, September 22 2021 16 Tishrei 5782