Jews in the United States celebrated Memorial Day just like all Americans—parades, picnics, and parties. They may have thought about those they know who died in service to their country. As they did, they created blessings for their own souls and the souls of those who had passed on.
When someone dies, Jews say, “May their memory be for blessing,” or, as I like to phrase it, “May their memory be a blessing.” When we mention the deceased person’s name, we say it along with the phrase “of blessed memory.” Basically, this infers that each time you think of someone who has passed on or say their name they are blessed and so are you. The memory you have of them turns into a blessing for you and for their soul.
Jewish tradition has many lovely rituals and traditions around death and grieving. This one, in particular, has such depth and meaning. It represents one of the most beautiful Jewish traditions.
The grief we feel when we lose a loved one can keep us from wanting to think about that person. Yet, knowing that each time we recall a particular time spent with a person who has died or talk about them actually makes doing so a positive, rather than a negative, experience. I can, for instance, talk about my father, who died when I was seven, and feel blessings raining down over me. I can remember him making breakfast in the kitchen on weekend mornings, and I feel us joined by the blessings this memory creates. This brings me joy and peace rather than sorrow.
On a holiday like Memorial Day, it seems fitting to recall all those who have died and to cause a huge storm of blessings! Turn something sad into something joyous, something negative into something positive.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be a holiday to remember your loved ones who have passed on. You can do this on the anniversary of their death, their yartzeit. It is traditional to light a candle that burns all day and to say a special prayer, the Kaddish.
Many traditions remember ancestors regularly. They put up small shrines or altars and leave flowers or light candles. You can see this done in some Chassidic sects around great rebbes’ graves, and sometimes you will find photos or pictures of great rabbis in homes.
Find or create your own tradition around blessings related to those you know who have died. Look into other religions that find blessings around the ancestors or around the memory of the dead. But consider the value in this beautiful ritual.