Our congregation has accumulated a long and inspiring history, if not on the cosmic calendar, at least in human terms. Over the past 100 years, tens of thousands of hours have been devoted each year by our members to the sacred endeavors of this holy congregation.
As we have continued along our way, we have not forgotten those who came before nor those whose physical infirmities have limited their ability to be with us. In devotion to memory and to our faith in God's healing nature, we take pains to mention them when we gather, particularly on Shabbat.
If we did not promise explicitly, we at least allowed the impression that the names of those absent from our midst, whether temporarily or permanently, would not be forgotten. And so, a list of people who need our prayers for healing is read each time the Torah comes out, and at the conclusion of Friday evening and Saturday morning services the names of family members who have gone to their eternal reward on the dates that occur that week are recited reverently.
I am always surprised at the conclusion of either list how few family members are present to hear those names. In a recent week, I recited 48 names of memorialized individuals, and only three or four recently-bereaved people rose to recite kaddish yatom. And, of course, you all know that family members who are on our mishebeirakh list are supposed to remain there only for one week, and only if the prayer for healing won't be offered by someone in synagogue on their behalf.
In the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem is a wonderful display of what looks to be a collection of carved stone idols standing in rows. Instead, it is a reconstruction of a pagan house of worship. This particular sect believed that supplications to their gods should be offered all day long, but adherents had to work the fields. So they commissioned statues of themselves which were placed in the temple while a succession of priests conducted rituals to a symbolic congregation.
The practice has appeal (especially during the fall holidays.), but the point is serious. Reciting a series of names, most of them unknown, to a crowd of strangers is no different than playing to an empty room. Our prayers for healing and in praise of God do not have magical powers to restore or remember. They exist to inspire us to be healers and holders of memory.
Perhaps it is time to consider how we might better remember the sick and the dead. Announcing their names to a roomful of strangers only emphasizes that they have been abandoned to the rabbi's reading ability. Certainly someone has an idea connected to our tech-forward memorial alcove and to other forms of technology that will call attention to the beauty of their lives and the needs for their healing, rather than to the empty sound of the room in which they are recalled.