Sermon for Memorial Service
October 2, 2011
We use all kinds of euphemisms to refer to the death of a loved one. We often say, “He passed on” or “He is no longer with us.” Sometimes we just say, “He passed.” We use euphemisms because we often find the reality of the word “death” to be too painful. We are not alone in this. Many different languages have different euphemisms for death. The words are less grim and more delicate, designed to spare the feelings of the living.
In this respect, our ancestors were not that dissimilar from us. They had a number of euphemisms for “cemetery” in Hebrew. It seems that our ancient forebears were as sensitive about death and loss as are we. They gave the cemetery several inoffensive, in fact, rather pleasant names. They called the cemetery Beit Olam (House of Eternity), Beit Kavod (House of Honor), or Beit Menucha (House of Rest). Their favorite and the most popular name, one still used today, is Beit Chayim (House of Life). The Jewish cemetery in Havana, Cuba, which many of us have visited, is called Beit Chayim as is the famous Jewish cemetery at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. Beit Chayim, House of Life, is, I think, not just a less offensive synonym for cemetery but a name that truly gets to the heart of what we are doing here today.
We come to this sacred place at least once a year to remember those whom we have loved and lost. By visiting here, we bring to life the memories of those who rest here, memories that bind us to our family and friends. It is these memories, of laughter shared, of challenges met, of burdens born, of happy times enjoyed and sad times endured that brings us back here year after year. Our dear ones spring to life in our minds. They are alive once again, even if just for a few moments, enabling us to smile and enjoy their vicarious companionship. Every time we visit, each time we say Kaddish, we cause the memories of those who are buried here to be resurrected once again. Our memories bring us the warm touch of companionship and the sweet kiss of affection that we so miss. As long as Jewish people return to the Beit Chayim, the House of Life, our forebears will continue to live on, forming that sacred chain of tradition that links generation to generation. As long as we are here, they live in our hearts. Perhaps Beit Chayim is not a euphemism after all, but a descriptive and accurate title for this, the eternal home of loved ones.
May our memories of our dear ones bring us solace, comfort, and peace. Amen