By Chaye Kohl
On the last day of Passover, the Yizkor prayer helps us memorialize our dead. On Pesaḥ 2020 I recited the prayer in the solitude of my living room, slowly mouthing the words.
Ostensibly I was reciting the Yizkor prayers for my father, a Holocaust survivor who died twenty years ago, and for all his family members who perished in the Holocaust: grandparents, aunts, and uncles whom I never met.
On my mind, though, were those I had lost in the months before the pandemic and those dead and dying of coronavirus—the gravely ill and those who were sheltering in place.
From October 2019 through February 2020, I watched my personal world contract, as people I knew died from cancer and dementia and pulmonary disease. Two women in my study group lost husbands; my favorite uncle Norbert, my childhood friend Breindy, my fun-loving friend Rocky—all gone in the space of 120 days.
In those four months I went to funerals, organized meals at shivah houses, hugged the near and dear, and then went to teach school each day.
In March 2020, the nursing home where my mother was being cared for shut down to visitors. My four-times-a-week in-person visits became video chats (once or twice a week) on the social worker’s personal phone. By June, Mom was also gone.
This year, on the last day of Pesaḥ, I shivered in the outdoor minyan and whispered the words of the prayers Jews have been saying for hundreds of years—soulful prayers that help us remember loved ones who are no longer alive. I was caught up in a tragic realization: We all—the collective family of humankind—have dealt with loss on a daily basis. And I wallowed in the enormity of my own season of loss.
Chaye Kohl teaches English at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in New Jersey and is an adjunct professor at Adelphi University in New York. She is part of the Heritage Testimonies cohort at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.
We all—the collective family of humankind—have dealt with loss on a daily basis.