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Asking the Clergy: How are you honoring those lost in the past year?

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of Congregational Church

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of Congregational Church of Patchogue, Anu Jain of Jericho of Jain Center of America in Elmhurst, and Rabbi Ira Ebbin of Congregation Ohav Sholom. Credit: Dwight Lee Wolter; Anu Jain; Ira Ebbin

Over the past year, many Long Islanders’ lives have been touched by loss — of employment, of good health and of friends and loved ones who are among the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died of COVID-19. This week’s clergy discuss how their congregations are honoring those affected by COVID-19 with prayer, religious rituals and good works.

Rabbi Ira Ebbin

Congregation Ohav Sholom, Merrick

At this year’s Yizkor, the memorial prayer service on the last day of Passover, I spoke about Linda. When I heard last month that Linda had lost her battle with COVID-19, I felt as though a small piece of me had also died. I didn’t know Linda well, but we shared a bond although we only spoke sporadically. Five years ago, I donated one of my kidneys to Linda.

The Talmud says that one who saves one life, saves the entire world. The meaning behind this adage is not to glorify the savior’s action but rather to glorify the life of the person saved, or every life for that matter. Jewish tradition teaches that when we are presented with the incredible honor of rescuing someone who is in danger, we aren’t just saving a life, we are saving a person who loved and was loved by others. Each life lost is a world lost.

At this Yizkor I asked those present to look beyond the sheer magnitude of the number of coronavirus victims to think about just one person they knew, whose life impacted theirs, and the little piece of themselves that died along with them.

Anu Jain of Jericho

Member, Jain Temples of New York

Jains honor the departed soul by performing religious rituals at home and the temple. For example, family members perform badhi (the word means "big" in Hindi) shanti puja, a ritual that invokes peace for all souls of the universe. In this puja we pray to 24 Tirthankars, all the deities of the universe, and to the planets, which exert forces that affect humans. We also say different types of prayers and perform pujas and rituals at the temple for the departed soul to have a peaceful next life.

We believe in reincarnation — that the soul travels from body to body to the next life. During the pandemic all these rituals are being performed in the temple by family members. Friends and relatives can attend via videoconferencing. After a few days, family members hold a ceremony where everyone who knew the deceased can join in. Family members recite the Namokar mantra, which honors those who have achieved the liberation of the soul.

We offer vegetarian meals, clothes and other essentials to needy people in the name of the departed soul and make donations to temples, orphanages, hospitals and research centers.

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter

Pastor, Congregational Church of Patchogue

My dictionary defines "honor" as "to regard with great respect" and "to fulfill an obligation or keep an agreement." With great respect, coinciding with All Saint’s Day on Nov. 1, our church bell rang every six seconds for more than two weeks to honor and grieve the then 240,000 Americans who had died of COVID-19. Today, it would ring every six seconds for more than a month to count each death. Recently, in cooperation with the governor’s office, our church honored the living by being a COVID-19 vaccination site.

A dictionary definition of "lost" is "being unable to find one’s way." Not only lives have been lost. To honor those who lost jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, we have offered groceries, gift cards for other necessities, face masks, hand sanitizers and hot lunches. Online, we offer weekly as well as special services when needed for those who have lost hope, relationships, purpose and direction.

We offer opportunities to discuss the blessings — like creativity, generosity, innovation and cleaner air — birthed from this dire situation in sessions, titled "My ‘Favorite’ Thing About the Pandemic." All is not lost if we honor, celebrate, learn from mistakes and pause to pray that the departed will find rest in eternal peace.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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