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Pesach-Yizkor Service. April 27, 2019

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach

This is not an ordinary Yizkor sermon for me. Almost six months ago my mother, Shirley Konigsburg died suddenly. It was right after Sukkot, so this is my first Yizkor service that I have to include her in my prayers. I have said Kaddish now for almost six months, every morning in West Hartford and each evening here in our minyan. Minyan is not much different for me. I have always attended minyan. Daily davening is an important part of my practice of Judaism. It is this Yizkor service however, that gives me the pause I need to reflect on her life, to note how much I still miss her and to gauge a bit on how I am doing.

I have said for the past six months, that rabbis don’t get any dispensation when it comes to mourning in Judaism. We go through the rituals just like everyone else and we need to mourn just like everyone else. There is a great deal of comfort in how Judaism has us process our loss, but nothing can erase how much I still miss her. I knew from the start this would be a hard year. It has not disappointed me at all.

Sometimes I don’t really see how much I have changed. My children have noticed that when we are all together, I am a bit quieter. They check in on me from time to time to see how I am doing. I try and be as open and honest with them as I can be. I know and they know that someday they will have to sit in the chair I am sitting in and I think they need to know what to do and how they will feel. It is a hard lesson to teach. I have never been a big fan of teaching my children the hard lessons of life. But death is a part of life and they will not know what they are supposed to do unless I teach them. When else will I have this chance?

I have told many people here today, who have suffered a loss, that there are two things they need to keep in mind. First that the pain comes in waves. I am doing all that I need to do when suddenly, from a place deep inside, the pain comes back. Sometimes it is so hard that it can, even six months later, draw a tear to my eyes. It seems to come up for no apparent reason except suddenly I am missing my mother and the love is so strong and the loss so great that there is pain that makes me stop until I can let it pass. Life does go on; it must go on, but I have learned to live with the interruptions.

The other things are the triggers. I know what those triggers are and when one happens, then I easily fall back into the loss I suffer. I called my mother every evening after 10 pm. Six months later, 10 pm is a sad time on the clock. I called my mother when I had good news to share, but now I can’t share it so even when the news is good, it is also bittersweet. Much of my life is built around the proverbs my mother taught me as a child. When life reminds me of the proverb, I know it has made me a better person, but I also miss my “teacher”.

That, I think points to a different pain of loss that I was not really expecting. My mother died ten years after my father and now I am left an orphan. My parents made sure that I was as prepared as I could be to make my own way in the world. I am not sure they ever really understood my love of being a Rabbi, but they understood that I was very happy with my life. They had provided me with the foundation I needed to be successful in life. Now they are gone, and I understand better what they had tried to do. I find I am grateful for the decisions they made, and I daily count the blessings in my life that are due to their love and commitment to their children.

It has also reminded me that my time with my family is also finite. I am not going anywhere soon, I pray, but just as I would pray for years that my mother, who died at age 98, that she should be well knowing that I could not keep her forever, so too, I know that while I can cheat death for some time, it will not be forever. I can work hard at being healthy, but I have spent way too much time in cemeteries to have any fantasies about what the future will someday bring. My mother’s death reminded me that nothing is forever.

 So here it is, Yizkor of Pesach. I have made it through her birthday in January and she was not at my Seder this year (She always loved being the cat in Had Gadya). I have yet this year to get past the Yahrzeits of my oldest brother and my father, Mother’s Day, my first birthday without her, her anniversary and my own anniversary. It will be a very different Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur without sharing my sermons with her. This Yizkor I will say a prayer for both my parents. I am sad that they are gone but happy with the memories they have left me.

At this memorial service, we turn to the lessons that endure in spite of the life that has ended. People die but love goes on forever. Loving parents is the Mitzvah that does not have a time when it starts; you wake up one day and you find that you love them; and it keeps on going long after they are gone. We make donations in our loved ones’ memories. We build on the foundations they built for us and we live by the lessons they gave us when they were alive.

My mom was all about kindness. There never was a point in staying angry at anyone. She also taught me not to wish for things I wanted, but to be grateful for what I have. She taught me that happiness does not come from “stuff”. Happiness comes from being with people you care about. I hope and pray that your memories of your parents, siblings, spouse or children also bring you as much joy and love as my memories do. I don’t worry about tears, as many of you have heard me say, “Tears are just the price you pay for loving someone.” Yes, at times it seems like a high price, but when you think about the love we share, no matter how many tears we shed, we are still getting off cheap.

I can talk about parents because that is what I know. But I am deeply aware that there are those here today who remember a spouse or a sibling, and yes, there are those who come today to remember a child who died far too young. These are difficult memories. The joy is so great, and the loss is monumental. Judaism has long focused on the death of parents, maybe because it was so common, but other losses can cut our heart even deeper.

It is just important that we don’t fear our memories. The pain and tears are not our enemy, they are actually our friends. The tear in our hearts is cut to our very core, but our memories are the instruments of our healing. Our loss is painful, but the memories remind us that there is more to their lives than our loss. We must make sure as we remember our loved ones today that the love we once had is far greater than our loss in their death, and we still can find meaning and comfort in what we once shared in life with them.

My Yizkor book, like yours, has an envelope inside. The donations we make today insure that a little bit of our synagogue will be built on the memories that we share. It doesn’t matter if our contributions are large or small, only that their memories will exist as long as we gather here to remember them. Our loved ones are in our hearts and through our contributions, they can be in our Siddurim, in our Humashim and in the very bricks of this building. I will send it my envelope; I hope you will send in yours as well.

The best way to remember my mother is to live my life honorably, be kind to others and share the love that she gave to me. I think I can handle that. May everything that I do be considered a monument to my parents and to their love. Now is the time to remember, now is the time to fall back on the memories that still guide our lives. Now is the time …  Let us rise now for Yizkor and may all the lives we remember today bring blessings to every day we are alive.  




Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on April 27, 2019.

Fri, July 10 2020 18 Tammuz 5780