Past, Present, and Community

It took me a while to have the time to write about my personal experience with the Yiskor Service on Yom Kippur.

My birth parents passed away 16 months apart.  I call them my birth parents because even though they did raise me a good part of my life, they were dysfunctional. My birth mother verbally abused me, physically abused me; and was so unpredictable behaviorally,  I never knew what to expect from day to day.  My birth father I know loved me, but he sexually abused me while my leg was in a cast when I was 17.  I just got home from the hospital when this occurred.

There is so much I can write about my childhood, but I will stick to a couple of my last experiences with them.  My birth mother kicked me out of the house after I accepted my husband’s proposal.  She changed the locks and everything.  She could not face that I was old enough to get married (I was 18), then she would eventually become a grandmother. She was a very vain woman who was only really concerned with her appearance and could not face getting older.  My birth father did nothing to stop this.  A few years later, when I asked him why he let all the craziness in the house take place and let his wife did what she did with me, he said, ” it was easier that way.” When I did try to have a relationship with them after my husband and I had two sons,  my birth mother proved she could not handle relationships and possible obligations .  I was ill off and on for most of a summer. My birth mother gave me a call and she said I did not sound good. I told her what was going on, and I never heard from her again and never heard from my birth father again.  I remember them starting to divorce themselves from family and friends.  They divorced themselves from my birth father’s parents after bringing them into Philadelphia when they could not be in New York alone anymore; my “Norney.”  She was our closest friend in the world. She was like my nanny.  She was devastated and did not understand what happened. There were so many people they just stopped having relationships with. They eventually ended up alone.  It was what my birth mother wanted.  She made sure my relationship with my birth father would not pass a certain boundary; and she made sure she had her husband all to herself.

So now it is Yom Kippur, it is time for the Yiskor service.  I told my congregation my situation.  How I could recite the prayers for parents.  Of course I did not go into great detail, but calling them my birth parents gave them an idea. I told them I know I am not alone, and they should know they are not alone. Many of us grew up with shtick in our families. I know the fifth commandment, “Honor thy Father and Mother.  I struggle with this. I have not forgiven, but I learned to let go several years ago. I just could not recite the prayers. I know what the prayers say.  I could not given them any honor.  During El Malei Rachamim, I broke down. I do not know how I got through it.  When it came to Mourners Kadish, my congregation, my community, came through when I could not recite the words, they continued.

I realized not matter what, my birth parents gave me life.  With this life, I did things that I thought could never happen because of where and what I came from.  I cannot give them honor, but I am here!

My community’s love, compassion, and friendship came through.  At the end of the services, as many are leaving, they thanked me for my, “humanity.”  They felt that what I demonstrated was “real.”




About cantorrisa

I am a Cantor, Judaic Studies, and music teacher. I enjoy sharing my knowledge, and help people from young to old love being Jewish. I teach and sing in several synagogues and schools in the area. I officiate all life cycle events and teach students, children and adults, privately for their b'nai mitzvah ceremonies. I also enjoy studying Bible with all faiths either individually or in small groups (chevruta). I conduct Shabbat and High Holiday Services at K'hilat Bayt Shira and Senior Communities in the area. In my spare time, I teach key board and guitar. I am married to a wonderful man, have two children and six grandchildren. My hobbies are writing, playing and listening to music, learning, reading, crocheting and knitting.
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