Listing Who Matters
It wasn’t boring; it was moving. I intended to listen to the reading of the names of the victims of the 9-11 attacks for just a few moments to honor those who died on that tragic day. I ended up listening for quite a while. It may have been the recital of a long list of names, but the way it was done left me feeling that each name mattered.
The Reading of the List set me on a search for a list of my own. I kept a list of all the people at whose funeral I was honored to officiate. The list began in 1983 when, as a new rabbi in Saratoga Springs, New York, I was asked to officiate at a funeral in Glenns Falls, New York. This was the first time I was asked to serve at a funeral for someone who was a stranger. He was a member of a dying community and there were few people who knew him to honor him. His wife was already quite old, and did not remember very much. His son, grandchildren, and great grandchild, seemed to be in a rush to get through the funeral and returned to their lives. I had a devastating sense that this man would soon be forgotten. I wanted him to be honored by more than a tombstone, so I began my list. He is remembered. His life mattered.
There are, unfortunately, hundreds of names on the list. A childless man buried by his wife, who is also on my list as she passed away just a few months later. They were all alone in the world. Clearly, soon to be forgotten. They are on my list and I mention their names each time I recite Yizkor, the Memorial prayer we recite on major holidays. Their lives still matter.
There is the man who sat by himself in synagogue week after week, praising every sermon that he, being deaf, could not possibly have heard. He was buried far away from home in a cemetery close to his long deceased wife and parents. I made a pledge to him at his funeral that I would not forget him and that he too would be on my list.
The Reading of the List on 9-11 moved me because I recalled visiting El Salvador just a week after a devastating earthquake killed more than 20,000 people, and realized how many of them would soon be forgotten as if they had never existed. The List reminded me that all too often in this world there are those we treat as if their lives did not matter.
The Reading of the List reminded me of another list that is also read aloud each year: Our tradition teaches us that every human being is called before the Heavenly Judge on Rosh Hashanah, his name is announced, and he is judged. This is a list of Names that Matter.
We matter to the Creator.
God judges us because we matter to God.
God judges us because everything we do matters to God. This is the list of people who matter.
This is the gift of Rosh Hashanah.
When we are taught that on the opening night of Rosh Hashanah the judgment begins, we are reminded that the opening moments of Rosh Hashanah are gift from God, assuring us that we matter. The rest of Rosh Hashanah is simply a celebration of that gift.
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