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Remembering Our Loved Ones

05/19/2022 10:22:33 AM

May19

Rabbi Dan Dorsch

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been ten years since she’s been gone.
 
At unveilings, I typically tell those assembled how one year after a person has died we begin to make the transition from mourning to memory.
 
For me, it’s been ten years, and I think I am still in part making that transition.
 
Since losing my mother, I’ve discovered that grief is funny.  It’s not linear.  It is more like mountains and valleys.  Sometimes, you feel like you are on top of the world.  In other moments, you are down in the valley in the shadow of death.  
 
This year, I spent my mother’s yahrzeit remembering the ways that she impacted me and my own personal growth.  I was blessed throughout my formative years to have learned at the feet of an extraordinary listener.  I would frequently bear witness to a woman who could walk into a room at a party not knowing a single soul and schmooze with anybody and everybody.  I watched her exhibit empathy for others that was second to none.  At times, I see those qualities manifest themselves in me, and I am profoundly grateful.  
 
I also see parts of her in my kids whom she never met.  Zev is named for her, and is developing that same, deep sense of compassion and empathy (in between beat downs on his sister, of course).  Haley has that same smile that will someday, light up many rooms.
 
In her honor, at some point, I’m going to go on a shopping spree.  She absolutely passed her love of retail therapy down to me, even as I find myself fighting it constantly.  To this day, it’s still hard for me to pass up a good outlet mall.
 
Needless to say, ten years out, there’s still a lot of complicated feelings.  So much is going well in my life.  I wish she was here to see it.  
 
I know that her love endures well beyond her death.  I can feel it every day.  That doesn’t ten years out make it any easier.

05/19/2022 10:22:05 AM

May19

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Pesach Yizkor Sermon 5782/2022

05/16/2022 09:58:47 AM

May16

Rabbi Dan Dorsch

Pesach Yizkor 5783
On October 20, 2020, just months into the pandemic, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. died at the age of 95 in Franklin Tennessee. 
Today, I mention him not because he lived a particularly storied career.  Or because he was an SEC football fan (I am sure he was). Or because he somehow lived a life of deep profoundness worthy of our examination at Yizkor.
I mention him because Leon Tyler Gardiner Jr., who died in 2021, was the grandson of the tenth president of the United States, John Tyler.  And was until very recently part of a family genealogical marvel that in three generations spanned the entire history of the United States.
Leon Gardiner, Tyler Gardiner’s Jr.’s father was born in 1853.  And his father, John Tyler, the tenth president of the United States, was born in 1790, just days after the Constitution was ratified and George Washington became president.
In 2012, an article from the website Mental Floss that went viral all over the internet pointed out just how remarkable it was that at that time, not one, but two grandsons of the tenth president of the United States were even still alive in the year 2012.
Unfortunately, toward the end of his life, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. had Alzheimer’s.  But can you imagine the stories he could’ve told about colonial America?  Not stories that he had read in a history book, but stories that he would have heard directly from the horse’s mouth, his grandfather, the tenth president of the United States.
Leon Gardiner Tyler Jr. would’ve known whether George Washington really chopped down a Cherry Tree from someone who would’ve heard the story from Washington.  He would have really known what Mary Todd Lincoln really thought of the play from people who were at the play.  He would’ve known those things not because he watched a documentary, but because he would’ve heard those stories from generation to generation in his family.
On Passover, we recite the words Bchol Dor Vador Chayav Adam, we say that each and every generation, we are obligated to see ourselves as if we came out of Egypt.  The Haggadah, which means “to tell a story” is a tool that connects us to the past.  At the Seder, we seek ourselves to become a part of that narrative, a tradition and a story that have been passed down every generation.  It’s an amazing thing.
And yet there is a tragedy, each year at Pesach, and especially when we reach the end of the holiday and come to Yizkor. We look around the Seder table we see who is and who is not there.  We recognize that the Haggadah is not enough.
For years, no doubt the Tyler family had its ancestors who could share stories of what the early days of America was like.  And no doubt, when we look at our Seder table on Pesach, and we come to Yizkor, we realize that we did too.  We remember stories of our own family haggadahs, the stories of Brooklyn, Macon, and the like.  Stories that as we look around the table, we realize will never again be heard from someone who lived the experience.
Writing in the Times of Israel, writer Abigail Russo reflects on how at Pesach, each time she asks the Ma Nishtana, what makes this year different from all other nights, she realizes each new Seder is different than the last.  A generation is lost from the Seder table.  She reflects on how watching the war in Ukraine, she recalls the stories of her grandparents who fought for Soviet Jewry’s freedom.  This was a generation that lived through the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel, and that felt inextricably connected to Jews around the world.  It was a generation full of a deep and abiding pride in seeing Judaism survive and even thrive in the toughest of conditions.  We are now losing that generation by the moment.  Our children will only know their stories through haggadot.
This year, my family was able to celebrate Seder with my 94-year-old zaydee and my grandmother, whose age at penalty of death, I will not tell you this morning.  I must say what a nostalgic experience it was for me.  As a child, we would pack into my grandparents’ house in Metuchen, New Jersey.  They of course had moved to New Jersey from the Bronx, where their immigrant parents had come following World War One from a town called Berehove, today in Western Ukraine, that was once a Hungarian town called Bericzaz. As a child, seders were small.  Then, in each subsequent year, as my aunts and uncles got married, had their own children, that Seder got a little more crowded than before.  My Zaide, in the tune that his father would use, would daven through the seder using the tune of his Hungarian father and grandfather as we all sat miserably at the table.   Sometimes we would complain.  Over time, our family commitments grew, we spread out, we had our own seder experiences.
Only this time around, something hit me when I realized the power of the living haggadah that I had in front of me.  I looked around the table, with great-grandparents and great-grandchildren, and realized for a moment how very fortunate I was.  Because the stories my children were seeing and experiencing were stories of Pesach, stories of our ancestors, not from a Haggadah, but from a President John Tyler: the melodies of the old county, from a perspective of the world that was so different from my own and all the more so to my kids.  From someone who heard from his parents not only aYetziyat Mitzrayim, but the Exodus to Pogroms to World Wars.
Each year, when we come to Pesach, we look at who and who is not at our Seder table.  And so we open our haggadot, and we do our best to recreate the part.  We read the stories.  We eat the same foods.  We sing melodies from our childhood.  How fortunate we are that the Haggadah creates a space for these things to endure.  
And yet as we come to Yizkor, we can let out together as a community a collective sigh: is that all we have of them: a haggadah, a story for us to tell?  So we pledge to be that bridge that through our stories connects one generation to another.  We create our own genealogical marvel as we create a Passover Seder that links us from one generation to the next.  
The perspective, the unique gift of the lived experience of loved ones, their smiles at the Seder table fade into memories.  But these are memories and values that give us warmth, and that we cherish as we share the Pesach story from one generation to the next.

Kedoshim

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Fri, May 20 2022 19 Iyyar 5782