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Yizkor, which translates to “remembrance” is a special Jewish memorial service and prayer to honor the deceased. It is most commonly said for a parent, child, sibling or spouse, but can also be recited for any relative or close friend.
My Jewish Learning:
Jewish mourning is both private and public. When we visit a grave or observe a yahrzeit [anniversary of a person’s death], we generally do so in private.
Yizkor is the public observance for the community of bereaved.
Yizkor means “may [God] remember,” from the Hebrew root zachor. It is recited four times a year in the synagogue: on , Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. In Israel, it is recited on the combined Simchat/Shemini Atzeret, the seventh day of Passover, and on the only day of Shavuot.
Originally, Yizkor was recited only on Yom Kippur. Its primary purpose was to honor the deceased by committing to giving tzedakah [charity] in their memory, on the theory that the good deeds of the survivors elevate the souls of the departed. It also enhanced the chances for personal atonement by doing a deed of lovingkindness. Since the Torah reading on the last day of the pilgrimage festivals [the holidays of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot] mentions the importance of donations, Yizkor was added to these holiday services as well.