At a recent trustees meeting, during which the woes of the minyan were raised yet again with the usual handwringing and excuses, I noted that a generation ago, regular attendees would look down upon "Yizkor Jews" and those who came only for Kaddish and Yahrzeit. Today, however, our synagogue, along with many others throughout the country, does not even get such Jews to come at all for Yizkor or Yahrzeit. Fewer people are observing Kaddish, even after the synagogue and its regular minyannaires go through the trouble of arranging for shiva minyanim. More often than not, once shiva is concluded, the mourners are nowhere to be seen - at least not during services. Why is this?
A Queens colleague of mine, Rabbi Stanley Greenstein, who is also a psychotherapist, has the following theory about Yizkor:
"1) That this absence from Yizkor is because this generation just doesn't respect its parents as did former generations. After all, isn't the message of Yizkor essentially the simple one: I remember my parents? And if we don't remember our parents, we haven't respected them.
2) That this absence from Yizkor indicates that too many of our people have lost the ability to accept the comfort of religion. We remember our parents, but not religiously. Perhaps this is because the parents of these absent people were not religious, and so when they remember them the children cannot utilize religion as their parents' undying legacy.
3) That this absence from Yizkor is the result of the custom of the past generation to ask children with living parnts to leave during Yizkor. The result, of course, is that today's children have no memory of seeing their parents saying Yizkor for their own parents.
Work pressures can make it difficult for many to come to the synagogue for the three Yizkor sevices, besides Yom Kippur, that occur during the year. But even when Yizkor occurs on a weekend, attendance is significantly lower than that of a generation or so ago.
If we want our children and grandchildren to remember us at Yizkor, then they should see us at Yizkor and participate at the service themselves in memory of deceased relatives, friends, the Six Million, and Jewish heroes.