Yahrzeit and Tzedakah (Charity) Go Hand in Hand

by Amy Lansky (CJC Ritual Chair)


When I joined the board of CJC, I knew that, like all boards, a lot of our attention would be focused on budgetary issues.  And as we all know, CJC  always has difficulty making ends meet.  So, I was incredibly surprised when I discovered that Yahrzeit Contributions — contributions made in the memory of a loved one on the occasion of the yearly anniversary of their death —  have not been a part of CJC tradition.  Every synagogue that I have ever been connected with relies upon this source of income. In fact, my husband and I still get yearly Yahrzeit Contribution envelopes from every synagogue we or our parents have ever been affiliated with!

There are good reasons for this tradition, and they go well beyond fundraising. In Judaism, remembrance of our departed loved ones always goes hand-in-hand with tzedakah — charity — especially charitable acts on behalf of the Jewish community. It is an intrinsic part of our culture, and not only for pragmatic pecuniary reasons.  Charity in memory of a loved one is considered to be a spiritually significant act. In fact, for me, not making a yearly Yahrzeit Contribution in memory of my Mom and Dad would be equivalent to not saying Kaddish for them. (By the way, Kaddish and things like Yahrzeit Contributions are only expected in the case of first-degree relatives — spouses, parents, children, and siblings.  Of course, you are free to extend these acts to other friends and family as well.)

Where does the tradition of the Yahrzeit Contribution arise? In many ancient cultures, including our own, prayers, acts of charity, etc. were considered not only ways to show respect and to evoke our memory of the dead, but were seen as actual  means for contacting and even helping them in the after life. In other words, by honoring the memory of our loved ones through acts of charity in this world, we actually enhance their lives in the spiritual world.

In the coming year, I intend to make Yahrzeit Contributions at CJC a personal project.  Sometime this fall, I will begin sending emails at the beginning of each month to everyone who has a Yahrzeit that month.  The message will include a form for sending your contribution in memory of your loved one. Donations are traditionally given in multiples of $18 — e.g., $18, $36, etc.  I hope you will join me in following this tradition — the Yahrzeit Contribution — which has endured and helped sustain the Jewish community for thousands of years.