In June 2018 Facebook launched a feature called “Memories”. Earlier, in March 2015, Facebook had announced a con- cept entitled “On This Day”, a feature that had evolved from the “Lookback” and “Say Thanks” videos released in 2014. “Memories” gives people the opportunity to reflect on the moments they’ve shared with family and friends, including posts and photos, friends you’ve made, and major life events.
I personally find it very moving when I look at “Memories” and reminisce and reflect on the events of the past. One recent “memory” featured originated from a visit I had once made to the $2 shop. I needed to pick up some double-sided tape and I saw a small pack of toy animals near the counter. I purchased them for my then three-year-old son. When I arrived home and showed him the gift, his eyes lit up, with a huge smile from ear to ear. It melted my heart to witness his sheer excitement. As the MasterCard adverts say – some things are priceless, some things money just cannot buy. I took a photo of this moment and posted it on Facebook and really enjoyed seeing the memory when it appeared.
I recently came across an interesting relevant study that showed that dollar for dollar, money spent on experiences makes people far happier than money spent on possessions.
Many people would much rather more family vacations than fancier furniture. They’d even rather a better honeymoon than a bigger engagement ring (well, I suppose that could be debatable). I think what Facebook and the entire concept of “Memories” has shown us is that what is really special to people at the end of the day are the memories of moments shared.
Judaism was keenly aware of this concept well before Mark Zuckeberg and Facebook. Yizkor presents people with the opportunity to scroll through their memory banks and think about their loved ones. We recite Yizkor a number of times during the year at the end of holy days; we did so recently on Yom Kippur (the end of the Ten Days of Repentance) and we will recite it soon again on Shemini Atezret as Succot and the whole Tishrei holy day season approach their end.
I think each of the holy days bring up emotion and connection to our loved ones as we remember how we would celebrate together with them. In their absence we are left with the memories of the experiences we shared during their physical presence; but it can be very painful to feel that absence that was so obvious during a festival. Hence Yizkor is appropriate even amid our celebration.
That said, Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret has an added dimension because over Succot we have been sitting outside of the comfort of our physical homes. It reminds us that our physical possessions, materialism, are all short-lived but the memories we create with our loved ones can last for eternity.
So for those needing to recite Yizkor this coming Shemini Atzeret, I ask you to reflect on two things. First, what it is that you’ll be remembering? Will it be the car that our loved one drove or the trips we took together? Will we recall the brand of shoes they wore or the strolls we shared at the local park? Second, as we leave shule and join our families and friends in celebration, let’s think about how we spend our time in the coming year. Are we chasing possessions or are we rather building beautiful memories that one day our loved ones can remember about us?