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In All That We Do, We Remember Them

re·mem·ber
/ri-mem-b∂r/

Verb

  1. Have in or be able to bring to one's mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).
  2. Do something that one has undertaken to do or that is necessary or advisable.

Synonyms
recall – recollect – keep in mind - mind

To remember – this definition, which comes from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, makes it clear that remembrance is not only about bringing loved ones to mind, but calls us to do things to honor their memory and the impact they have had upon us. To remember is to lift up all those things the deceased have taught us so that their lives continue through our own hearts. To remember is to embrace both the strengths and imperfections of those whom we have lost by continuing to foster our strengths and improve upon our own shortcomings. And, to remember is to do what is necessary—to keep in mind that what we do will have an impact on others’ lives.

"We Remember Them”1 is perhaps one of the most famous readings found in our liturgy. Its thoughtful and insightful words have transcended beyond Jewish liturgy and have entered the hearts and minds of Jews and non-Jews alike. The words remind us how important the idea of remembrance is to our sacred tradition. Each holy day that we celebrate and observe includes the concept of remembrance—to recall and internalize its meaning. Four times a year we observe Yizkor, a memorial service based on the notion that our souls live on through those whom we love. Every worship service concludes with the recitation of the Kaddish praise as a means to honor those whom have parted from us physically, but live on in our actions and in our own love for others and ourselves. On each Shabbat we are challenged to remember and observe. In the Amidah we too ask God to remember, to remember our ancestors whom God trusted, advised, and guarded. 

Memory is not only integral to our Jewish tradition, but is part of all humanity. We are told not to forget those catastrophes that have struck all peoples. We are challenged to remember facts and formulas that help us become well-rounded. We are asked to reflect upon ourselves and plan to improve what we can about ourselves. To remember is what we do every day and in every way. 

While responsive reading has become a vestige of the past in many synagogues, I believe that there are poignant moments when this practice can be meaningful. When reading "We Remember Them," the leader and congregation respond interchangeably. I have always loved its words and imagery, and share with you my own words that expand upon what is now an important part of our liturgical canon.

IN THE RISING of the sun, and in its going down, we remember them.
From the moment I wake till I fall asleep, all that I do is remember them.

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.
On the frigid days of winter and the moments I breathe the cold air, I warm myself with their embrace, and remember them.

In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
As the days grow longer and the outside becomes warmer, I am more awake and I remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.
When I look above and see the images of the clouds and when I am comforted by the sun that shines down on me, I remember them.

In the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
From the time in which I feel the cool, crisp breeze and see the colors of the leaves, I remember them.

In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.
On the day I make resolutions for myself and on the day I reflect upon how I’ve grown, I remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
As I am faced with challenges that enter my life, I remember all that they taught me, and remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.
When I have gone astray and feel uncomfortable, I ask for help and remember them.

When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them.
From those times of celebration, love, and happiness, I remember them.

So long as they live, we, too, shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
On every day, and in every way, I know that they are with me and I remember them.

P.J. Schwartz is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. He serves as a rabbinic intern at Isaac M. Wise Temple and rabbinic chaplain at Jewish Family Services in Cincinnati.

  1. Sylvan Kamens and Jack Riemer, New Prayers for the High Holy Days (Media Judaica, Ins., 1970) edited by Rabbi Jack Riemer, p. 36

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah, a daily e-mail on a topic of Jewish interest. Sign up now to add 10 minutes of Jewish learning to your life each day!

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