The following is a ritual to mark the occasion of the first yahrzeit(Yiddish) The anniversary of a death, usually marked by the lighting of a 24-hour yahrzeit candle and the recitation of Kaddish, the memorial prayer. For U.S. Jews, the unveiling of the headstone usually takes place on or around the first yahrzeit.—anniversary of the death—of a loved one in one’s home, after sundown on the night of the yahrzeit.
When someone close to us dies, the experience of grief over their death never ends; we simply learn over time to live with the pain of their loss. Even in their absence, relationships with loved ones continue to be significant in our lives. The first yahrzeit for a loved one does not mark the end of grief, but it does mark a transition in the mourning process. We have moved through the cycle of a year feeling the absence of our loved one at each holiday, each birthday and anniversary, in ordinary moments and at major milestones. We have concluded the period of saying kaddishThe Aramaic memorial prayer for the dead. Mourners recite this prayer at every service, every day, in the presence of a minyan (prayer quorum) over the course of a year (for a parent) or thirty days (for a sibling or offspring). The prayer actually makes no mention of the dead, but rather prays for the sanctification and magnification of God's name., after thirty days or eleven months. Having encountered death, we are different. The actions we have taken to mourn our loss and the grief we have felt inside us have changed our soul.
The practice of designating the yahrzeit as a memorial day dates back to ancient times. The annual day of remembrance is an opportunity both to celebrate our loved one’s life and legacy and to revisit the rupture in our life caused by their loss. It is a time to notice how their qualities live on in us and in the world around us and to reflect on how we have been changed by our grief. At the time of our loss we leaned on community to support us in facing the death of our loved one. We call on them now to witness and hold us in this moment of transition in our process of mourning.
A 24-hour yahrzeit candle or any candle that will last for a full day. (Yahrzeit candles can be purchased at Jewish bookstores, at many synagogues, and, often, in grocery stores with a kosherFit to use or consume under Jewish ritual law. "Kosher" often refers to the food which it is permissible to eat according to Jewish dietary law, but can also mean the suitableness of a Torah scross or mezuzah for proper ritual use. For more on dietary laws, see kashrut. food section.)
A cup or pitcher of water, a basin, and a hand towel.
Food or drink to serve after the ritual. This can be a simple snack or a full meal. (You might choose foods that were particular favorites of the person you are remembering.)
In the weeks approaching the yahrzeit: Choose a cause or organization that was meaningful to your loved one to which you will make a donation on their yahrzeit in their memory; invite close friends to join you in the yahrzeit ritual.
A couple of weeks before the yahrzeit: Send emails to friends and relatives of your deceased loved one asking them to share memories of your loved one in writing.
Within the week of the yahrzeit: Dedicate some time to reflect in writing on your loved one and on the experience of the past year of mourning. Consider using the following writing prompts:
Bring to mind a day or a moment that you shared with the deceased that you want to remember. It can be in the recent or distant past; a remarkable experience or an ordinary one. Tell the story of that day or moment. What qualities of your loved stand out as you remember that time together?
How has the year of mourning changed you? What have you learned about yourself as you’ve grieved your loss?
Ask one of the people who will be attending your ritual to assist with the ritual handwashing.
On the night of the yahrzeit
1. Opening Song
Open the ritual space with a niggunA wordless melody.—a wordless melody—or a song, such as “For With You is the Source of Life,” by David Zeller:
The lyrics, from Psalm 36:10, are:
Ki imcha mekor chayim, b’orcha nireh or
כִּי עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים, בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה אוֹר
For with You is the source of life, in Your light we see light
The simple melody for the song is the same for the Hebrew and English lyrics.
You can listen to a sample of the song here: http://www.davidzeller.org/aliveness/
After the song recite a poem such as the one below, or one that is particularly meaningful to you or your loved one.
The Thing Is
by Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
“The Thing Is,” by Ellen Bass, from Mules of Love. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002.
3. Candle lighting
Light the yahrzeit candle and recite the following:
“NerCandle Adonai nishmat adamAdam is the first human being created by God. Symbolizes: Creation, humankind..”—“The human soul is the lamp of God.” (Proverbs 20:27) We light this candle in remembrance of you, __________, and we give thanks for knowing you. We light this candle and welcome your presence, on this your first yahrzeit, __________, even as we deeply feel your absence. We light this candle to honor your memory. May your memory be a source of comfort, blessing, and light.
4. Sharing memories and reflections
Take time now to share memories of your loved one and reflections on his or her life, as well as on the process of grief and mourning during the past year. You can begin by sharing selections from your own written reflections, followed by selections from any emails you may have received. You may then open up the space to those present to share memories of your loved one, if they knew him or her.
5. TzedakahCharity. In Hebrew, the word tzedakah derives from the word for justice. Tzedakah is not seen as emanating from the kindness of one’s heart but, rather, as a communal obligation. (Righteous Giving)
At this point, recite the following:
“We are thankful for the gift of your life, _______, for all that we have learned from you, in life and in death, and for all that we will continue to learn. We donate tzedakah to ________ in your memory. Through this act of righteous giving we carry on your name in this world.
You can say a few words about the cause or organization which you have chosen to support.
Conclude this section with the song that opened the ritual.
6. Mourner’s Kaddish
If there are ten Jewish adults present, you may recite the Mourners’ Kaddish now.
7. Hand Washing
The TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. describes the spiritual effects of encounter with death and prescribes purification rituals to help individuals reconnect to life in the aftermath. These rituals usually involve water. One such ritual practiced today is for mourners to wash their hands after burying their relative, before entering the shivaSeven-day mourning period following the funeral of a first-degree relative, during which time family members remain at home and receive visits of comfort. Other customs include abstinence from bathing and sex, covering mirrors, sitting lower than other visitors, and the lighting of a special memorial candle which burns for seven days. home, marking a transition from proximity with death back into the realm of the living. The first yahrzeit, too, marks a further transition away from proximity with death.
Using the cup and basin, at this point in our ritual, one of those present can pour water over the your hands, a gesture of lovingkindness and support at this moment of reconnecting to life as you transition out of the first year of mourning.
Conclude the ritual by sharing some food and/or drink together and saying, “l’chaim, to life!” Sharing food with dear ones is life-affirming; reciting traditional blessings before eating is a way to acknowledge the Source of Life.
Reading this has been very helpful. Thank you.
Thank you for this. I was unfamiliar with this ritual and am grateful to have an understanding of it.
I am looking for a spiritual unveiling for my husband, who was cremated , to commemorate his 1st year yarzheit. This has a nice flow. And is simple.
I like your writings. I am 72 and lost my 41 year old son Michael
last March 26. I will have his unveiling in the spring. I’m
Not religious but would love to
Have something lovely to say at his monument every year to commemorate and honour my
Lovely educated son.