Sunday, March 18, 2012

Yahrtzeit in Ferney-Voltaire

Today is the second yahrtzeit of my father, William Aaron Pliskin, who passed away March 10, 2010, several months before his 90th birthday, an event he was excited about celebrating.  Yahrtzeit is a Yiddish word, meaning the anniversary of someone’s death according to the Jewish calendar (my father died on the 24th of the month Adar in the year 5770), and it is observed by close relatives going to the synagogue and saying kaddish, known as the “mourner’s prayer.”  It is, in fact, a prayer for the living that is said several times during the service to acknowledge the greatness of God and to appeal for peace.  Kaddish is also said at home when lighting the yahrtzeit candle in memory of the loved one.

I wanted to go to services yesterday to say kaddish, but the closest synagogue, Beth Yaakov, is in downtown Geneva.  The location was not a problem for me, although circling the city looking for parking might have been.  The problem, however, is that Beth Yaakov is an Orthodox synagogue in which women do not say kaddish.  Geneva’s liberal synagogue, GIL, has services on Friday nights starting at 6:30, smack in the middle of rush hour, and because the synagogue is on the other side of Geneva and parking is difficult, I would have had to have left Ferney-Voltaire at 5 PM at the latest to get there on time.  Needless to say, that does not seem to be a restful way of spending Shabbat evening.  So I didn’t go to services to say kaddish and considering I am a member of the egalitarian Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California, not being in a community to say kaddish with other mourners is a lonesome experience.

But last night after sundown I lit the yahrtzeit candle at home and said kaddish with thoughts of my father.  He, too, was an experimental physicist, but his world of science was far removed from CERN’s physics.  He received awards from IBM for his patents of thin glass films which prevented printed circuits from oxidizing, and which saved the company millions, and probably by now, billions of dollars (too bad that savings didn’t trickle down to his salary…). My father loved his family and physics, had a wonderful sense of humor, was a lifelong liberal Democrat (his parents were members of the Workmen’s Circle, a Jewish socialist organization), and was as proud of being an agnostic as he was of being a Jew.  He had a handlebar moustache, sparkling eyes, and a charming smile.  I miss him. 



  1. What a lovely post. I remember your father very clearly, even though I met him only twice. He was a delightful person to be with. The picture you've posted is wonderful. It captures that charming smile.

    You are lucky to have a tradition that honors the dead. It is a lovely way to remember them. My father died 3 1/2 years ago; my mother and my sister nearly 7 years ago, and I think about all of them every day.

  2. Having a yahrtzeit candle burn for 26 hours is a poignant tradition for remembering loved ones. I wonder why Unitarians, who have adopted some Jewish observances, haven't taken on the yahrtzeit candle and kaddish. You can buy the candles in the kosher section of supermarkets, and you light them the evening of the day before the person died, since the Jewish day starts at sundown.

    I can't believe that it's been that long since you lost your mother, sister, and father. Maybe lighting yahrtzeit candles on the days they died would be a way for you to honor them.