The Power of Memory

By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Published by the Omaha World Herald – July 27, 2013

Several years before I came to America from Argentina, a friend wrote to me about some Russian Jews who had immigrated to the United States. The Russians, he told me, were curious to find out about their relatives who had emigrated to Argentina decades before.

I thought that if they were buried in a Jewish cemetery in Buenos Aires, I might be able to find them. To find a grave in Buenos Aires, you can look at a computer database of the Jewish community, so I searched for their names and found them. I sent the dates of their deaths to my friend, as well as the location of the graves where they were buried. He wrote back and told me that the relatives were very moved and expressed a wish: They would love to have a photo of the tombstones.

So I went to the cemetery with a camera. The graves were in different sectors, quite far from each other. They were made of simple stone, and the names could barely be read. First I went to the woman’s grave. From the wording on the headstone I learned that she had died in 1948 at the age of 76. The stone included a phrase: “Your husband will remember you.” Then I went to man’s grave; he had died in 1955 at the age of 83.  I wondered when these graves were last visited — it seemed to be a long time ago. Then, deeply moved, I recited the appropriate prayers that are said when visiting a grave.

When I finished saying the prayers, I realized that I had been given the privilege to observe the Jewish value of “chesed shel emet” (true act of kindness). The good deeds we perform for the living may sometimes be done with the expectation that someday the favor will be returned. Caring for the dead is considered to be a truly selfless act, since there is no possibility of repayment.

When I left the cemetery, I thought about the power of memory. This couple died more than 55 years ago. Their headstones were abandoned, and they were apparently forgotten. However, after such a long time, some distant relatives had remembered them and looked for them. Because of their search, my friend wrote to me and I stopped by to recite a prayer.

We should leave to our loved ones, to our friends, and the community at large, something worthwhile to remember. Then, despite the passage of time, even in a faraway place that we cannot even imagine today, someone may remember us with emotion, love and gratitude.

Posted in Articles, Newspaper Articles

Rabbi Levin is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Munster, IN. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly. In 2010, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City for his years of dedicated service to the Conservative movement and the Jewish community...Full bio