Our Yom Kippur plans involve Zooming into services from home while our kids play in the background. I like the idea of them listening to services and hope that, all things considered, it’s a positive holiday experience.
I’m not sure what to do about Yizkor, though. If we were at synagogue in person, they would either be in the children’s service at that time, or I’d have them leave the main service with a friend. However, given that we’ll be at home, and saying Yizkor is important to me, I’m not sure how to handle this. I don’t want them to interrupt me, I don’t want them to see me cry and, yes, I’m superstitious. What can I do for this part of the day?
Yizkor at Home
I applaud you for wanting to give your children a positive Yom Kippur experience, even without the physical presence of community. For one thing, many people tend not to think of this holiday as especially positive and, for another, and as we saw in last week’s column, sitting out the holidays has a fair amount of appeal this year. Anything you do to encourage a holiday atmosphere will go a long way for both you and your children.
But first, a little background: Yom Kippur, which is a serious, solemn day of fasting, is often considered extremely sad. But, at its heart, Yom Kippur is actually a happy day! It’s an opportunity for reconciliation, for starting over, for setting intentions for yourself for the coming year. And yet, Yom Kippur is also one of the days when Yizkor is recited, which is a special service specifically dedicated to remembering loved ones who have died.
Many Jews hold a superstition that the only people who should attend Yizkor are those who have lost a close relative, and to attend not as a mourner is to invite the evil eye. One more level is that Yizkor also often is framed to include those who have died who have no one to mourn them, including victims of the Holocaust. Superstitions or not, it’s a tough 20 minutes.
I expect that your synagogue’s Zoom service will give some notice that Yizkor is about to start. If it’s a hybrid service, there will be a pause while people exit the physical space. If it’s fully virtual, there will likely still be a moment of transition before the Yizkor begins in earnest. During that pause, or before, switch from a public device that your kids can see and hear to your phone with headphones.
And even before that, let your kids know that some parts are very boring so they don’t have to listen. If your holiday practice can accommodate television watching separate from watching services, have your kids pick a show to watch during this time, which you’ll set up in advance. If that’s not the holiday tone that works for your family, set them up in advance with some other special activity or snack for when you put on your headphones.
Another idea is to wait for naptime or some other moment during the day when the kids are naturally occupied to do Yizkor on your own. That may be more challenging for you than saying it along with the Zoom service, but what you lose in community and following along with the congregation, you gain in flexibility. Make sure you have a machzor (High Holiday prayer book) with you or have printed out some sources before the holiday so you have the words in front of you and can do the service on your own time. It sounds like there may be another adult at home with you, so trading off who is with the kids and who is saying Yizkor is also a practical way to get everyone’s needs met.
I hope you’re able to carve out some private time to remember your loved one(s) without your kids interrupting you. I would also encourage you to find time during the day to talk to your kids about who you’re remembering. Though talking to kids about death is sad and can be scary (especially for the adults), sharing memories about loved ones can be extremely meaningful and is very much in the Yom Kippur spirit.
Be well and g’mar tov,