Sample Memorial Observance

SONG: Turn, Turn, Turn  from the book of Ecclesiastes, adapted in song by Pete Seeger


To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born, a time do die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep.

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together.


A time of war, a time of peace
A time of love, a time of hate
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing


A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear, it’s not too late.

The poet in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, Koheles, the verses of which we have just sung, appears to be extolling the natural order. But the simple verses can also be interpreted as an early understanding that, in the natural world that human beings inhabit, each thing is linked to its opposite, not separate and apart from it. We cannot love if we do not fear loss. We cannot appreciate joy unless we have suffered sorrow. Death is not separate from life: it is part of life. And life — not just a life but all of life — is the ultimate purpose of life.

Good morning. My name is Rebekka Helford and I am a Secular Humanistic Jewish Madrikha (in Hebrew), Vegvayzer (in Yiddish) or, in English, a Leader. We have come—___’s family and friends—to seek comfort and consolation from each other in the face of death…to be reassured that there is meaning in life. Not just the abstract idea of “life” but the idea that our own lives have meaning as well.

It is that common, shared, complex set of needs and feelings that draws humans together at a time of death. All human cultures, no matter how diverse in form, meet death in a similar way: by a coming together of family, friends, and community to mourn the passing from our midst of someone we loved — to grieve over the empty space in our lives that was once filled by someone we knew and held dear. And to start filling that emptiness.

It is a kind of communal holding of hands, a way of communicating to each other something of the inexpressible emotions that are much too big to be contained within the limits of our own souls.

In all cultures, special words and phrases have emerged to serve this purpose and to relieve our own limited vocabularies of the vain search for words to articulate our feelings. Those words can be called “prayers” or poetry — especially, the poetry that comes from the treasure store of our own particular heritage.

I invite you to join me in a responsive reading of a poem of mourning and memory by Rabbi and WWII Marine Corps Chaplain Roland Gittelsohn. When I gesture to you, please say, “we will remember him.”

In the rising of the sun and in its going down we will remember him.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter we will remember him.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring we will remember him.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer we will remember him.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn we will remember him.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends we will remember him.
When we are weary and in need of strength we will remember him.
When we are lost and sick at heart we will remember him.
When we have joys we yearn to share we will remember him.
So long as we live he, too, shall live, for he is now a part of us as we remember him.

In our remembering is life eternal.

It is our affirmation of life that gives us the means to deal with death. And it is our affirmation of the life of ___ that can give us the strength to deal with his death.

As we struggle to deal with ___’s death and learn from his incredible life, the lesson of his devotion becomes a shimmering part of the memory of him that will fill the empty space in our lives. The Yiddish author Yitzhok Leybush Perets wrote: “Memory defies oblivion, breaks the coils of the present, establishes the continuity of generations and rescues human life and effort from futility.”

To share their memories of ___, I call upon the following friends and family members:

If anyone else wishes to add memories and thoughts, please come forward.

[After all have spoken]

SONG: Keep me in your heart by Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderon

Shadows are fallin’ and I’m runnin’ out of breath
Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while
When you get up in the mornin’ and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for a while
There’s a train leaving nightly called “When All is Said and Done”
Keep me in your heart for a while
Keep me in your heart for a while
Keep me in your heart for a while
Sometimes when you’re doin’ simple things around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile
You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for a while
Hold me in your thoughts
Take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes
Keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you
Engine driver’s headed north up to Pleasant Stream
Keep me in your heart for a while
These wheels keep turnin’ but they’re runnin’ out of steam
Keep me in your heart for a while

We have come to console each other in this moment of grief and have found some consolation in our coming together. We have come to gain strength in our memories of ___ and have found that the act of remembering is the source of strength and of eternal life. We have come, also, to seek meaning.

The poet-philosopher Kalil Gibran offered sentiments that have brought much meaning and indeed comfort to many, especially in the life-cycle-spanning verses penned in his seminal work, The Prophet. In it, he speaks of, among other things, birth, marriage, children, and work. He also offers the following soliloquy on death, life’s final journey:

Than Almitra spoke, saying, “We would ask now of Death.”
And the prophet said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity…
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

As an ordained official of the secular Jewish movement, I understand that one’s identity as a Jew need not rely on a belief in or worship of the supernatural. However, there remains the more complicated matter of reciting the mourner’s kaddish, whose power and gravitas in the face of death I cannot deny. This Aramaic prayer acknowledges neither death nor dying, instead glorifying the almighty. It has been recited by—and given comfort to—Jewish mourners for nearly nine centuries. If you wish, I invite you to rise and share in this custom, and to join in the community of mourners (Mourner’s kaddish is recited).

Our being together for this brief time cannot fully assuage the sorrow, nor can words — any words — bring the consolation that will take much time to grow strong from our own strength. We have sought and will seek consolation in tears and stories, with memories and love, with food, with friends, and with community.

And with silence. Silence is the heart of death and silence alone can do it justice. But silence does not mean passivity. Jewish tradition speaks of four virtues that form the core of silence.

The first is hearing: hearing the inner voice of our pain and love, rejoicing that nothing, not even the grave, can rob us of those supreme human emotions.

The second is memory: reclaiming the past by refusing to forget the joys it once held. He who once lived among us now lives within us and there he cannot die.

The third virtue of silence is action: we must honor our dead by continuing to live ourselves. Their memory is quickened only in the fullness of our own lives, our own futures; our ongoing struggles to make sense out of an often senseless world — and, when we can, to heal and uplift our world to justice and peace.

The fourth is wisdom: every life is a teaching, every person a guide to truth. We must allow the wisdom that was ___  to become a part of ourselves, that his memory may lead us to an even greater wisdom of our own.

Hearing, memory, action, wisdom…May each of these find a place in our silence, in our grief, and in our moving out again into the world.

-Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, Humanistic Judaism, Vol. XVII, No. III

Koved zayn likhtikn ondenk: All honor to his bright memory.

Zikhrono levrakha: May his memory be for a blessing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close