On Yom Kippur, Yizkor is a time to reflect not only on our lives but on the lives of those that came before us and on our role as the link between a past that is the stuff of history and the future that we want to help shape. We remember those that came before us. While no parent or grandparent or sibling or spouse or partner that we remember were perfect, each left us with some positive legacy: some value, some teaching, some action that they taught us that helped us to be better human beings.
A neighbor of mine, D., told me a story of a rabbi he happened to meet years ago. This particular rabbi was in a bind, looking for sermon materials at the last moment. D. related to this rabbi the story of going to a Russian Jewish cemetery in which pictures of the deceased were actually etched onto the matzevot, the headstones. The rabbi immediately perked up and said, “You’ve just given my Yizkor sermon. My theme will be ‘what picture of you would YOU want on your matzevah?’”
I loved that idea and was prepared to run with it. But a few days after hearing the idea, I was listening to the radio, and the host of a program was reporting on a news story that brought this idea home even more for me. Here’s an excerpt of the story as reported by Wired magazine:
Music lovers can now be immortalised when they die by having their ashes
baked into vinyl records to leave behind for loved ones.
A UK company called And Vinyly is offering people the chance to press their ashes in
a vinyl recording of their own voice, their favourite tunes or their last will
and testament. The company was founded by Jason Leach…
Leach explained to Wired…that there were a number of factors that made him launch the service, including thinking that he was “getting a bit old” and “might not
be invincible”. His mother also started working at a funeral directors,
which brought the whole funeral process closer to home. A third prompt was
when he saw a TV programme that showed someone in America putting their
ashes into fireworks, which made him think about how he might want to be
remembered. And, he says, “It’s a bit more interesting than being in a pot on a
And Vinyly also offers personalised RIV (Rest In Vinyl) artwork — the
simple version just carries your name and your life span, or you can have your
portrait painted by artist James Hague, using your ashes mixed into the paint.
The basic package costs £2,000 [approximately $3000] and comprises of the standard artwork along with up to 30 ash-flecked discs with whatever sounds
you choose, lasting a maximum of 24 minutes…
The main challenge is choosing the music. Leach says: “It’s difficult to think of what to put on your record because you want it to be the best album you can imagine…”
Now, before you wonder where this is all going, let’s hear what the Hasidic
Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav wrote about the songs of God’s creations:
“Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone; May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and the grasses, among all growing things and there may I be alone and enter into prayer to talk with the one that I belong to. Know that every shepherd and shepherdess has a unique nigun (melody) for each of the grasses and for each place where they herd. For each and every grass has its own song and from these songs of the grasses the shepherds compose their songs.”
So, it may not be such a far cry to suggest that each of us has a song or set of songs that represents our true essence. And while I’m not suggesting or planning to have remains put onto an album or CD or mp3, this companies concept, merged with the thinking of the rabbi who wanted to know what picture would people want on their matzevot, merged with Rabbi Nachman’s recognition of the unique song that all living things carry at their core, leads to some interesting questions:
- What are the songs that those who have departed left for you?
- What does the album of songs of your life consist of?
- What are the songs you wish were there but aren’t there yet?
- And what songs would you still like to add?
Consider some of the following:
- I Did It My Way
- I’m a Man
- Am Yisrael Chai
- We are Family
- Eishet Chayil
- Highway to Hell
At Yizkor time we will stand together. Each of us has a song we’ve inherited from those before us. And a song we want to teach those who come after us. During the minutes of Yizkor, let’s get back in touch with the music of the ages before, and commit ourselves to helping teach those who will outlive us the music that will make them, their families and ours, their community and ours, and their world and ours so much better in the years and centuries to come.