As Jews observe the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we enter a period not of celebration—notwithstanding the former being known as the “Jewish New Year”—but of profound reflection. Best known as a period of prayer and repentance, it is also, and explicitly, a period of remembrance: Yom Kippur is one of only four times each year when Jews recite the Yizkor prayer, primarily for deceased parents. It concludes, more broadly, with “Av Harachamim,” the eleventh-century prayer first written after crusaders destroyed German-Jewish communities.
We will recite it this year at a time when remembrance has become complicated—especially as it involves public memorials. It is in that context that a personal story of remembrance comes to mind, for suggesting what may currently seem counterintuitive: that there is much that we miss when a historic site has no monument.