Clergy Sermons

At Central Synagogue

« View All Sermons

Julia R. Cadrain
Al Kol Eileh: Processing Loss on our Terms (Yom Kippur 5778)

Julia R. Cadrain  |  September 30, 2017

Click here to listen to or download audio only (MP3)

Al​ ​hadvash​ v’al ha’oketz,​ al​ ha’mar​​ v’hamatok…​ al​ kol​ ​eileh​ ​sh’mor​ ​na​ ​li​ ​Eli​ ​hatov

God,​ ​keep​ ​all​ ​of​ ​these​ ​safe​ ​—​ ​the​ ​honey​ ​and​ ​the​ ​bee​ ​sting,​ ​the​ ​bitter​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sweet.

Naomi​ ​Shemer’s​ ​song​ ​​Al​ ​Kol​ ​Eileh​​ ​grabs​ ​our​ ​hearts​ ​right​ ​from​ ​its​ ​first​ ​notes.​ ​While​ ​her melody​ ​is​ ​resonant​ ​and​ ​accessible,​ ​the​ ​song​ ​actually​ ​conveys​ ​a​ ​nuanced​ ​message​ ​that​ ​speaks​ ​to us​ ​in​ ​this​ ​moment​ ​of​ ​memory.​ ​Instead​ ​of​ ​only​ ​recalling​ ​the​ ​appealing​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​life,​ ​Shemer describes​ ​the​ ​full​ ​range​ ​of​ ​experiences​ ​—​ ​the​ ​sweetness​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sting,​ ​the​ ​tension​ ​and​ ​the release,​ ​the​ ​ache​ ​and​ ​the​ ​balm.​ ​She​ ​assures​ ​us​ ​that​ ​life​ ​is​ ​complicated​ ​and​ ​dynamic,​ ​​brimming with​ ​highs​ ​and​ ​lows.​ ​Our​ ​tradition​ ​teaches​ ​that​ ​we​ ​often​ ​encounter​ ​these​ ​peaks​ ​and​ ​valleys​ ​all​ ​at once,​ ​and​ ​even​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​insist​ ​that​ ​this​ ​inherent​ ​contradiction​ ​is​ ​necessary​ ​in​ ​marking​ ​the passage​ ​of​ ​time.

This​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​contrasting​ ​emotions​ ​coexisting​ ​is​ ​reflected​ ​in​ ​some​ ​of​ ​our​ ​most​ ​profound life​ ​cycle​ ​rituals.​ ​At​ ​Central,​ ​as​ ​you​ ​know,​ ​we​ ​recite​ ​a​ ​prayer​ ​of​ ​gratitude​ ​—​ ​the​ ​​Shechechiyanu​​ ​— immediately​ ​after​ ​the​ ​​Mishebeirach​​ ​prayer​ ​for​ ​healing.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​joyful​ ​final​ ​moments​ ​of​ ​a​ ​wedding ceremony,​ ​we​ ​shatter​ ​a​ ​glass​ ​to​ ​acknowledge​ ​the​ ​brokenness​ ​still​ ​present​ ​in​ ​our​ ​world.​ ​And when​ ​we​ ​utter​ ​the​ ​words​ ​of​ ​mourners​ ​Kaddish​ ​at​ ​a​ ​graveside,​ ​we​ ​actually​ ​recite​ ​words​ ​of​ ​praise: Yitgadal​ v’yitkadash​​ ​…​ ​exalted​ ​and​ ​hallowed​ ​be​ ​God’s​ ​name.

The​ ​Talmud​ ​even​ ​asks​ ​that​ ​our​ ​own​ ​personal​ ​words​ ​of​ ​memory​ ​contain​ ​this​ ​same complex​ ​mix​ ​of​ ​emotions.​ ​The​ ​Hebrew​ ​word​ ​for​ ​eulogy​ ​is​ ​​hesped​,​ ​which​ ​means​ ​“praise.”​ ​But​ ​the Talmud​ ​teaches​ ​that​ ​the​ ​words​ ​of​ ​a​ ​eulogy​ ​should​ ​break​ ​our​ ​hearts,​ ​and​ ​make​ ​us​ ​cry.​ ​It​ ​also charges​ ​us​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​the​ ​truth,​ ​saying,​ ​“we​ ​should​ ​recall​ ​the​ ​good​ ​qualities​ ​within​ ​the​ ​departed,​ ​and maybe​ ​add​ ​a​ ​bit​ ​to​ ​them,​ ​but​ ​not​ ​exaggerate.​ ​And​ ​if​ ​they​ ​did​ ​not​ ​have​ ​any​ ​good​ ​qualities,​ ​do​ ​not mention​ ​them.​ ​If​ ​they​ ​were​ ​wise​ ​and​ ​righteous,​ ​then​ ​recall​ ​them​ ​as​ ​wise​ ​and​ ​righteous.”

Our​ ​tradition​ ​gives​ ​us​ ​permission​ ​to​ ​name​ ​the​ ​truth​ ​of​ ​our​ ​own​ ​experiences​ ​around death.​ ​It​ ​acknowledges​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​one​ ​way​ ​to​ ​remember​ ​a​ ​life,​ ​because​ ​the​ ​way​ ​we​ ​process​ ​a loss​ ​depends​ ​on​ ​us.​ ​If​ ​our​ ​relationship​ ​with​ ​the​ ​person​ ​who​ ​passed​ ​away​ ​was​ ​strained,​ ​or abusive,​ ​or​ ​we​ ​were​ ​estranged,​ ​we​ ​may​ ​not​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​grieving.​ ​Or​ ​if​ ​we​ ​are​ ​grieving,​ ​that​ ​grief could​ ​contain​ ​a​ ​longing​ ​for​ ​what​ ​could​ ​have​ ​been,​ ​or​ ​regret​ ​over​ ​words​ ​either​ ​unspoken​ ​or spoken​ ​too​ ​harshly.

Perhaps​ ​if​ ​our​ ​relationship​ ​was​ ​particularly​ ​painful,​ ​or​ ​if​ ​there​ ​was​ ​a​ ​prolonged​ ​illness, death​ ​may​ ​even​ ​come​ ​as​ ​a​ ​relief.​ ​In​ ​these​ ​situations,​ ​we​ ​might​ ​be​ ​exhausted​ ​from​ ​watching​ ​the suffering​ ​of​ ​someone​ ​we​ ​love,​ ​from​ ​caring​ ​for​ ​them,​ ​or​ ​from​ ​being​ ​in​ ​a​ ​constant​ ​state​ ​of​ ​anxious vigilance,​ ​wondering​ ​if​ ​this​ ​goodbye​ ​will​ ​be​ ​the​ ​last.​ ​It’s​ ​not​ ​that​ ​we​ ​don’t​ ​mourn​ ​the​ ​passing​ ​and miss​ ​the​ ​person,​ ​it’s​ ​more​ ​that​ ​the​ ​mourning​ ​is​ ​accompanied​ ​by​ ​a​ ​feeling​ ​of​ ​release.

Or​ ​perhaps​ ​our​ ​loss​ ​elicits​ ​grief​ ​alone.​ ​Maybe​ ​the​ ​death​ ​was​ ​sudden,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​didn’t​ ​have​ ​a chance​ ​to​ ​say​ ​goodbye.​ ​Someone​ ​was​ ​taken​ ​from​ ​us​ ​before​ ​his​ ​or​ ​her​ ​time,​ ​and​ ​it​ ​feels​ ​senseless and​ ​unfair.​ ​Even​ ​when​ ​someone​ ​lived​ ​a​ ​full​ ​life,​ ​we​ ​might​ ​still​ ​find​ ​ourselves​ ​utterly​ ​unprepared for​ ​the​ ​loss.​ ​They​ ​are​ ​wrenched​ ​from​ ​our​ ​presence,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​say​ ​goodbye.​ ​We might​ ​feel​ ​overcome​ ​with​ ​emotion,​ ​or​ ​we​ ​might​ ​feel​ ​numb.​ ​We​ ​might​ ​be​ ​unable​ ​to​ ​stop​ ​crying,​ ​or find​ ​that​ ​we​ ​cannot​ ​shed​ ​a​ ​tear.​ ​Whatever​ ​response​ ​we​ ​have​ ​to​ ​death,​ ​our​ ​tradition​ ​sees​ ​us​ ​and makes​ ​space​ ​for​ ​us.

Our​ ​process​ ​of​ ​saying​ ​goodbye​ ​and​ ​mourning​ ​can​ ​evolve,​ ​too.​ ​Perhaps​ ​this​ ​is​ ​why​ ​we​ ​are called​ ​upon​ ​to​ ​attend​ ​​yizkor​​ ​services​ ​year​ ​after​ ​year.​ ​Because​ ​after​ ​someone​ ​dies,​ ​our​ ​memories remain​ ​dynamic​ ​and​ ​our​ ​relationships​ ​may​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​transform​ ​over​ ​time.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​here remembering​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​passed​ ​many​ ​years​ ​ago,​ ​your​ ​experience​ ​of​ ​the​ ​loss​ ​may​ ​feel different​ ​now​ ​than​ ​it​ ​did​ ​then.​ ​And​ ​if​ ​you​ ​are​ ​living​ ​in​ ​the​ ​wake​ ​of​ ​a​ ​more​ ​recent​ ​death,​ ​your emotions​ ​might​ ​be​ ​shaped​ ​by​ ​the​ ​freshness​ ​of​ ​that​ ​loss.​ ​Our​ ​tradition​ ​gives​ ​us​ ​permission​ ​to process​ ​loss​ ​on​ ​our​ ​own​ ​terms.

So​ ​when​ ​we​ ​smash​ ​that​ ​glass​ ​under​ ​the​ ​chuppah,​ ​and​ ​when​ ​we​ ​cry​ ​and​ ​laugh,​ ​praise​ ​and wail​ ​through​ ​a​ ​eulogy,​ ​we​ ​take​ ​part​ ​in​ ​our​ ​tradition​ ​of​ ​honoring​ ​every​ ​authentic​ ​response. Wherever​ ​you​ ​are​ ​on​ ​this​ ​​yizkor​ ​​ afternoon,​ ​may​ ​you​ ​feel​ ​the​ ​grace​ ​to​ ​process​ ​your​ ​loss​ ​in whatever​ ​way​ ​resonates​ ​with​ ​most​ ​you​ ​right​ ​now.​ ​Because​ ​we​ ​are​ ​together​ ​on​ ​this​ ​painful,​ ​holy path​ ​of​ ​having​ ​people​ ​and​ ​then​ ​losing​ ​them.​ ​And​ ​all​ ​of​ ​it—​ ​the​ ​honey​ ​and​ ​the​ ​bee​ ​sting,​ ​the regret​ ​and​ ​the​ ​relief,​ ​the​ ​laughter​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sobbing,​ ​the​ ​brokenness​ ​and​ ​the​ ​peace​ ​—​ ​all​ ​of​ ​it​ ​is sacred.

Our Podcast

Take Central to go with our new podcast available through Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify.

View at Apple
View at Google
View at Spotify

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)
code: 759682#