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October 5, 2022 | The Footstone Read: “Took the Recipes With Her” (Yom Kippur Yizkor 5783)

Maurice A. Salth

The Footstone Read: "Took the Recipes With Her"
Rabbi Maurice A. Salth, Yom Kippur Yizkor 5783

Dedicated to Ashley Goodman, Zichrona Livracha

While at a local cemetery I happened upon a footstone of Joan, the mother of one of our members.  I knew our member well but had never met her mom.  The stone read: “Joan, beloved wife, mother and grandma” and on the bottom of the footstone were the words “took the recipes with her!”

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I read it.  Somehow, on this footstone, which, keep in mind is much smaller than a full gravestone – on this footstone, her family both honored their loving relationship to Joan and her chutzpah, her uniqueness, her joi de vivre.  When I asked Joan’s daughter “what does ‘took the recipes with her’ mean?”,  I learned that Joan loved to cook and host.  A meal, a holiday at Joan’s home was one to remember both because of her delectable food and the spirit in her home.  And yes, if you asked Joan for a recipe, she would playfully find a way to keep her secret sauce…secret – that’s the way she liked it and her family honored her mysterious ways.  Yes in the end, Joan took the recipes with her.  

Armand was called "Dah-doo" by his grandchildren Lauren and Jason, and was a regular presence across the street in our Community House lobby where he regularly dropped off his grandchildren for our religious school.  Lauren and Jason loved their Dah-doo with all their hearts.  You would not have known from his gentle demeanor of how he, as a child, survived the Nazi invasion of his native Romania, oppressive Communist rule by Russia, impoverishment, the wrongful imprisonment of his father and his mother’s suicide.   He eventually emigrated to the United States when he was in his 50s and spoke with a distinctive “ehhh” in between his words.  His children and grandchildren would call Dah-doo when facing a challenge and he would listen, keep them steady and then alongside a few “ehhhs”, provide brilliant perspectives on what they were wrestling with.  Based upon his personal experience, he knew almost anything can be overcome.

My father, Irving, was a proud contrarian and his uniqueness demonstrated itself in many ways.  One brutally hot summer when I was still in high school a swarm of hornets decided to build a nest squarely to the right of the front door of our suburban Long Island home.  Instead of calling an exterminator or purchasing a “home defense” chemical spray to kill them all, my dad wanted to rescue the nest and bring it to the local nature preserve.  We pleaded with him, but he was unmoved.  On one of the hottest and most humid days in August my father and I dressed up in multiple layers of clothing including thick wool winter hats.   Dripping in sweat, we used a painter’s spatula and a giant empty plastic pretzel container, to capture the nest, and delivered it with the hornets into the local preserve without one sting – truly insane.

Each of us, I know, have stories of those we are remembering today.

We are here on Yom Kippur in the midst of one of our most powerful rituals, Yizkor, the remembrance service for those who have died.  These are the people we spent our life’s time with – we ate lunch with them, went to Yankee games, talked about work, sat next to them in synagogue and yes, tried to coax their recipes from them.  And boy do we have stories.

And we miss them, even though they could drive us bananas at times, even though they could push our buttons, we miss them.  We hear a song on the radio and they come to mind, we walk past a restaurant they loved and we picture them there; we see and hear them and speak to them in our dreams, we smell their favorite perfume and they are present!  

Just after my father died, I was here in synagogue speaking with Andrew.  He told me something I have always remembered: “My father has been gone for 15 years and it is still so tough.”  Wise words.

This is a part of our lot as human beings.  The people we love die.  It’s terrible.  There is no way around it.  We Jews do not avoid this truth.   

The pain we feel, the loss of our mother, our father, our sister, our brother, our spouse, our child, our friends and family members, these losses should not keep us from retelling stories of who they were and who they still are to us.  On the contrary we are encouraged, especially on days like today, to speak of them and what made them dear.

The Biblical book of Proverbs (10:7) is the source of the Jewish saying “their memory will be a blessing”, zichronam livracha in Hebrew.  Its core idea resounds as in order for blessing to present, we must engage in remembering them, in invoking their name, their life’s time, their attributes and tales of the lives they lived.  When we do so, blessings of all sorts are released.

Take for example the extraordinary blessing of new generations of family members having relationships with people they never met.  These children, themselves, bring up their deceased relatives without prompting.  They have heard so much about a person who is no longer alive that they have a sense of their essence, their life force, their character.  Our recollections of those who have died help these children to know deceased family and friends – a true blessing.

And there are more blessings that flow from the memory of our loved ones – remembering them can steel us when we face difficult challenges; inspire us in our daily activities or to just get out of bed and start a new day.  Remarkably their memory can bring us hope and joy even when we also feel the sorrow of their passing.  

So let’s tell these stories, lift their names and allow their memory to be a blessing to us.  We can just think of them in our minds.  We can share our thoughts with loved ones, perhaps at our break fasts later today.   Let us tell of them this afternoon, tomorrow, next Thursday and on and on.  Let the love and the blessing from our memories flow.  They were ours and we were theirs.  This, in itself, is a blessing and this blessing remains true, even in death.