Posts Tagged 'Yizkor'

Yizkor: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

After a painful breakup, Clementine undergoes a procedure to erase memories of her former boyfriend Joel from her mind. When Joel discovers that Clementine is going to extremes to forget their relationship, he undergoes the same procedure and slowly begins to forget the woman that he loved. Joel wakes up, his memories of Clementine erased. He impulsively goes to Montauk and meets Clementine on the train home. They are drawn to each other and go on a date to the frozen Charles River in Boston. Joel drives Clementine home and Patrick sees them, realizing they have found each other again. Joel and Clementine receive their Lacuna records and listen to their tapes. They are shocked by the bitter memories they had of each other, and almost separate a second time, but agree to try again.

In short this is the plot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry. This is a visually arresting film that explores the intricacy of relationships and the pain of loss.

I was thinking about this movie as I prepare for Yizkor on Yom Kippur. We recite Yizkor four times a year in the synagogue: on Yom Kippur , Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. Originally, Yizkor was recited only on Yom Kippur. Its primary purpose was to honor the deceased by committing to giving tzedakah 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. It was the custom in medieval Germany for each community to read a list of its martyrs at the Yizkor service. The practice was eventually expanded to include the names of other members of the community who had died. Today, most synagogues publish lists of those who are remembered by congregants, which are distributed at the Yizkor services. In addition, the lights on all the memorial tablets in the synagogue are turned on.

Yizkor has evolved to become a practice of exploring the memories of people who played an important role in our personal and communal consciousnesses. In the context of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one is left asking, can you intentionally forget a foundational memory?

There are many directions I could take this, but for now I will reflect on this question in the context of one of my favorite lines from Torah. The people of Israel have sinned and God is not having it. God says that God will destroy the people and create a new people from Moshe. In response Moshe says, “And now, lift their sin, and if not, erase me please from Your book that You wrote.”(Exodus 32:32). Moshe is saying that we cannot just forget the foundational memory of the people of Israel even if they fell short. Just as Moshe demands to keep their memory wrapped up with his own, the memories of everyone we keep in our consciousness is reknit with our own identities with the recitation of Yizkor every year.

May their memories and our own be for a blessing. Gmar Chatima Tova

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