Sunday, September 03, 2006
My father's memorial plaque has arrived. For those unfamiliar with the custom, synagogues usually have one or more walls of memorial plaques, which are embossed with the names and dates of death of former congregants, relatives, ancestors, etc. Next to each plaque is a little lightbulb which can be turned on during the month of the anniversary of death, or yahrtzeit, so that shul members know when to say kaddish for these individuals. In newer shuls, there may be only a few such plaques. In older, declining shuls, the plaques may far outnumber the amount of living congregants.
Longtime readers of this blog may recall the saga of my downsized row, wherein the row I had called my home in the shul for over 10 years suddenly disappeared, and I was forcibly relocated to a row of tables in the back. When this row was appropriated by others (primarily because, in those days, I was too lazy to get to shul early enough to claim my seats), the Rabbi relocated me to a new row with a table closer to the front of the shul. It so happens that this new row is right next to the wall with all the memorial plaques.
Normally, this would have little effect on me. Nowadays, as I spend much more time in the shul, and as I spend much of this time preparing for or saying kaddish, I find myself looking at the plaques more and more frequently. I read the names. I look at the dates.
Some names are familiar. A very small number are people that I knew, that have passed on. People whose funerals I attended; shiva calls that I've made. Even a few that I've named children after. A very few.
Other names are known because I make connections to the children who still pray in the shul. Ah, this one must be Reb Yaakov's mother. This looks like a grandfather.
Other names, maybe a slightly larger group, belong to families that I recognize from the community at large, but no longer belong to our shul. I find these names to be the most interesting. Hmm, I know this guy. He's a big macher at the Conservative place in Glendale. His family's plaques are here? His parents and grandparents must have been members at this shul. I wonder what made them leave?
Still others, perhaps the largest group, belong to family names that are totally unfamiliar to me. Some go back to the 1800's. Others are all in yiddish, all terminating on the same date, people who perished in the Holocaust, no doubt. Many, many unfamiliar names. Stretching up towards the ceiling. Who where these people? Where are their children? What is their legacy? Did the family names simply get lost, as daughters married and took husbands' names? Did they move away, out of town? How many of their children intermarried, and no longer have Jewish descendants? Is anyone saying kaddish for these people? When the man who, month after month, dutifully combs the rows of plaques and turns the lights on for the appropriate ones, says the kaddish, is he the only one thinking of these people? How many of these plaques are the end of the line, I wonder.
So, my Dad's plaque is here. And I guess I'm being sentimental, or silly, but I asked the Rabbi to put it up near where I sit, so that I can gaze up at it during one of the many lulls in the service. He told me no, all the spots on this board were reserved, but he can have my Dad mounted a little further back.
Reserved. Huh. I guess I find that a little funny and a little morbid at the same time. People who are still alive. We've got a spot picked out for you. Any time you're ready.
Ach, this whole thing is morbid. I know it's silly for me to want to have my father's plaque nearby. There is no Jewish significance to the plaque. It's just a placekeeper, to remind people to say kaddish. But it's all I have of him, right now. His grave is 1000 miles away, in Farmingdale. I can't run over there for a quick visit. For me, his final resting place is on that wall.
Well, maybe I can move my seat.