My First Yizkor – By Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, ALEPH Executive Director

shosh-profile-picI said my first yizkor prayer for my father at Isabella Freedman this past Shavuot holiday, last June. He passed in November 2015, so I could have said yizkor prayers at Pesach, but I chose to wait. I knew that my first time reciting the words of this memorial prayer would be quite hard for me. I needed to be in a place where I felt safe and supported by my community. The Jewish Renewal Shavuot Retreat at Isabella Freedman seemed like the most appropriate place — I knew I would be surrounded by loving friends, teachers, fellow spiritual seekers, and inspiring davenen leaders.


“I spent some time thinking deeply of which kind of organization would satisfy my need to honor my father’s legacy and memory”.

When the time came to say yizkor, those who hold the tradition of leaving the room if their parents are alive left the room, and only those mourning a loss remained. Suddenly, the room began to take a different shape and a new community of mourners formed. The middle aged man next to me told me that he had lost his mother when he was only a boy of 10 years old, but that didn’t stop the tears from flowing and the feeling of profound gaping hole in his heart. I took a few deep cleansing breaths to center myself in preparation to spend a few intense moments, within the space of this holy community, focused on the memory of my father.


Rebbetzin Eve Ilsen, widow of Reb Zalman z”l, led the yizkor service. Before the service began, she reminded us of the promise that is included in the prayer language, the promise to give tzedakah-charity in honor of the loved one that we are remembering during this holy time and in this holy space. Having never said yizkor before, I had been unaware of this promise, but the message stuck deeply in my psyche.


As soon as I returned home, I wanted to make a donation in my father’s honor, but in order to honor him properly and the amazing man, father, and grandfather that he was, I didn’t just want to give to any random organization. I spent some time thinking deeply of which kind of organization would satisfy my need to honor my father’s legacy and memory. What values were important to him? How would he like to see Judaism perpetuate and transform in the next generation? The process was both comforting and meaningful for me. I intend to engage in that process every time I say yizkor for my father.

This year when you say the yizkor prayer in memory and in honor of your loved ones, it is my hope that you will also take the time to carefully consider which organization you will choose to support in memory and in honor of your loved ones and their individual legacies.

The board and staff of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal works every day to transform, build, inspire, and perpetuate the Jewish future. We sincerely hope that you will partner with us on our continued journey to further the legacy of our beloved Reb Zalman z”l.

With Love and Blessings,