By: Gilad Menashe  | 

RIETS Hosts Community Yizkor Program in Memory of COVID-19 Victims

The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) held a community Yizkor program on Thursday, April 1 in remembrance of the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic and Jewish leaders that have passed away within the past year. The event took place over Zoom and attracted over 130 attendees. 

The event was planned by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) Community Programming Director Rabbi Dov Winston, CJF Dean Rabbi Yaakov Glasser and RIETS Dean Rabbi Menachem Penner. Rabbi Glasser, Rabbi Penner and CJF Senior Scholar Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter each spoke during the program. 

Rabbi Glasser served as the moderator of the event. “For so many, there were empty seats [at the seder table] of treasured and beloved loved ones,” he noted in his opening remarks. Rabbi Glasser continued saying that, metaphorically, “for the larger seder of the Jewish People there were tremendous voids created by the loss of some of the most prominent leaders of our generation.”

Rabbi Schacter was then introduced and discussed the recovery from a loved one’s passing. He said, “While we fully acknowledge that we will always remember [our loved ones]... we still try to move forward.”

After a short video was played in memory of many of the Jewish leaders that the Jewish community lost, Rabbi Penner spoke, echoing Rabbi Schacter’s thoughts. “Through us, the lives of those who are lost are continued,” he said. “They are judged every year based on what they really accomplished, which was not the limited amount that was done during their lives but the amount they accomplished after.”

The program then continued with the recital of two chapters of Tehillim for the remembrance of those who passed away from COVID-19. The chapters were recited by Rabbi Mark Karasick and Rabbi Tyler Pere, whose father Rabbi Joseph Karasick and whose grandfather Rabbi Moshe Kwalbrun, respectively, passed away this past year due to COVID-19. During the recital, names of deceased loved ones –– submitted by attendees before the program –– were displayed on the screen.

In a statement sent to The Commentator, Rabbi Schacter elaborated on his thoughts from the event. “Memory is central to Judaism,” he said.  “The root z-kh-r in Hebrew means to ‘focus on this,’ ‘make this important,’ and to do so through action. We need to live our lives, proactively, in accordance with the values that animated the lives of our loved ones who died. In this way, they will live on and be remembered most meaningfully. Tehei nishmatam tzerurot be-tzeror ha-hayyim [May their souls be bound up in the bond of eternal life].”

Students were appreciative of the speeches. “The event was really special,” shared Rivka Barnett (SCW ‘21), who attended the program. “I thought it was really powerful when Rabbi Schacter and Rabbi Penner emphasized that we should be comforted because we are the ones who can continue the legacy of those who are not with us anymore.”

This program follows another YU initiative related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was launched this past March. YU developed a website with the purpose of educating its students and the general public on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to their website, the site functions as “a repository of the lessons learned in teachable moments that will continue to guide us for the rest of our lives.”

“Our Yizkor event was an opportunity to mourn and reflect together, as a YU family,” Rabbi Penner reflected on the event. “Especially at times of crisis, that extended family is critical for our emotional and religious well-being.”

Photo Caption: Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, Rabbi Menachem Penner and Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Scachter each spoke at the community Yizkor program. 
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University