Clergy Sermons

At Central Synagogue

« View All Sermons

Ari S. Lorge
Voices of the Past (Yom Kippur Yizkor 5774)

Ari S. Lorge  |  September 14, 2013

The poet wrote,

O there are Voices of the Past,
Links of a broken chain,
Wings that can bear me back to Times
Which cannot come again:
Yet God forbid that I should lose
The echoes that remain!
—Adelaide A. Procter, “Voices of the Past”

There are voices of the past that echo in our world.  We who have known loss encounter them as we go about our days.  They trigger memory.  Sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, and experiences all can serve as echoes triggering our memory.  Someone we pass on the street wearing the scent of their perfume or their aftershave.  Being seated at a table in a restaurant where we once shared a meal for their birthday, or was it an anniversary, or just a night out?  Hearing that song to which we used to dance together, or cook together, or play together.  These are the echoes of voices past—experiences that carry us back to a place and a time with someone we have lost.

And often these echoes of voices past sneak up on us in the subway or in the theater or in the grocery store.  We do not anticipate them.  We do not see them coming. 

There is one echo that we do anticipate, often with anxiety because we know when to expect it.  And we know that it’s unlike any other echo of voices past: holidays.  Our holidays do not sneak up on us, yet they elicit and evoke memories of those we have lost in unusually potent and powerful ways. 

The holidays do not return us to a single time or memory; rather they propel us through a tunnel of memory.  And there’s not one echo in that tunnel; rather a chorus of past voices, years of shared holiday experiences, rise to the forefront of our minds and of our hearts. 

We go to services and sing the same songs, yet the voices we most want to hear no longer reach our ears.  We eat the same holiday dishes that they once cooked or stole off of our plates or shared with us.  And we’re reminded of their absence.  We see many familiar faces.  But the faces that we long to see remain echoes.  Echoes of voices past that call out to us. 

And yet the echoes, the memories are not nothing.  “God forbid that I should lose the echoes that remain,” spoke the poet.  For it is through the echoes that our friends and our loved ones who pass live on in our lives. 

A different poet captured it best.  He spoke of “painful joy.”  The pain of once again having the reminder of our grief but the joy of remembering the time we once shared with those we lost.  What we seek to recall this day is that it is both: it is pain and it is joy. 

And yet, when we feel we do not have license to remember, permission to recall, the opportunity to retell, then we feel the pain without the joy of comfort.  Sometimes we are told to turn a deaf ear to voices of the past.  We’re told, “Buck up, stiff upper lip, be brave, move on, keep busy.”  We do not live in a culture that creates space for grieving, and this can make the holidays particularly hard.  Because the echoes surround us. 

And so once again the wisdom inherent in our tradition comes the fore. Judaism ensures that we take time to hearken to voices of the past.  Judaism helps us find the painful joy through ritualized remembering.  We’ve just entered the gates of remembrance.  We’ve arrived once again at our service of Yizkor, customarily four times a year, all during holidays.  Jews are commanded to remember those who were closest to us.  To surrender ourselves to the voices of the past echoing in our world.

Judaism says it’s not only appropriate, but it’s also healthy: healthy to remember and healthy to grieve.  Judaism teaches us that part of the human condition is grief.  For after all, we do not each have individual solitary Yizkor services.  We do not go alone with our memories.  Rather we come together, for grief, like love, is a universal experience.  In time, it touches all who walk this world.  And so we come together as a community to stand with one another and to remember. 

O there are Voices of the Past,
Links of a broken chain,
Wings that can bear me back to Times
Which cannot come again:
Yet God forbid that I should lose
The echoes that remain!

On this day, and at this hour, we open ourselves up to voices of the past.  We allow those voices which echo in the Sanctuary and on the streets and in our homes to be wings, wings that bear us back to times now gone.  And so let us listen, and let us remember, for when we hear the music of voices past echoing in our world, then we glimpse those we’ve lost, and then, too, we glimpse immortality.

More Sermons

Shabbat Services

6:00pm Fridays
9:30am Saturdays
In our Main Sanctuary

Morning Minyan

8:00am Mondays - Fridays
In our Community House

Live Streaming

(during services)

Call In

(during services)
404-602-9526
code: 759682#