Facebook Post by Rabbi Perlin in the Time of Coronavirus (5/5/2020)

Tuesday 5.5.20: A Yahrzeit

by Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D.

Two years ago today, my friend Rabbi Dr. Aaron Panken died. It was the most tragic day for family and friends, and the Jewish world, as a husband-father-son-brother-family member-friend-rabbi-teacher-luminary-mensch-leader & scholar died. In so many ways, the world will never be the same, because the world with him was so much more caring and insightful, visionary and kind. Today, my heart is with all who loved and admired him, as my life these past two years has been dedicated to honoring his memory and his legacy.

Today is not another pandemic day.  Today is a day of memory and touching the real pain that comes with loss, personal pain and sharing the pain of others who are also hurting.  Memory can wrap you in love, like a tallit, and/or it can attack your heart or take away your breath.  Today begins with early morning Zoom prayers at Central Synagogue in NY with his family, and a lunchtime study with his mentor, friend, and predecessor as President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

I am not writing to solicit condolences for me.  I am writing, because each one of us has a list of people we have lost and remember.  I am writing to let you know that it is okay to find normalcy in the yearly cycle of death and remembrance.  I am writing to let you know that it is okay to hurt and to grieve, even as the world loses hundreds upon hundreds of people each day to a virus we cannot see, but whose devastation we feel.  Like a virus, death overtakes us and sometimes it is so overwhelming we gasp to breathe.  And returning to “normal” isn’t something that death or the virus offer.  All we can return to is a “new normal.”  We know we will never be the same again.  Something has changed who we are, how we cope and grieve, and how we get up to face a new day.

Every day, there is a yahrzeit (the marking of the yearly anniversary of death) for a loved one somewhere in the world.  And on those days, the pandemic fades into the background as memories and emotions rush to the foreground.    On the days we remember, we light a yahrzeit candle and say the Kaddish (our prayer of memory that links heaven and earth).  If only we had one more hour, or holiday, or birthday, or …

If only our calendars could have only happy days, but alas death is a permanent part of life, as this pandemic highlights in every news broadcast. So, I am thankful that as Jews we mark the anniversary of death personally and publicly, privately and in community.  As each one of us grieves in our own way, we have one common calendar of remembrance.

How you are handling this pandemic, and its host of losses, has everything to do with how you handle loss in life.  A yahrzeit opens up that place inside where all your grief gets stored.  A yahrzeit is a powerful moment in time that can transport us to the past, and rekindle the bond that is stronger than death.  And at a time when we are alone and isolated from the world,  and unable to find our seat in the synagogue to pray, we carve out a different kind of day, acknowledging the resilience that enables us to go on, and the comfort that such a day can bring.

Today, I remember my dear friend, may his memory forever bless our lives.  Everything else will wait until tomorrow.