Yizkor 5778: Dostadning
I want to apologize by telling you that I am about to butcher the word I'm about to use, but I hope you’ll understand. While I speak four languages with some degree of proficiency, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Spanish: Swedish is not one of them. Although with the new Ikea opening down the road, maybe I will have to learn a little better!
The word I want to talk about as we approach the Yizkor service is the Swedish word Dostadning, if I even said it right. Dostadning, according to an article the appeared a few months ago in Time Magazine, is a central ritual that Swedes undergo in their lives that translates in english to the words “death cleaning.” It is the process whereby, Swedes, in a very ritualistic fashion, reaching a certain point, go through all of their belongings and decide to get rid of the things that no longer matter to them anymore. And this is not because they profess some kind asceticism, but because when they die, what they want to be left with, what they want their children and grandchildren to find, are things that are only seen as being what is important to them.
And so the Dostadning ritual involves more than just cleaning. As Swedes begin the process, their invite their children and their grandchildren into their homes. They sit around the dining room table. They then show them many of the items that they are of value. Young Swedes are then expected to ask questions about those objects: Dare I say four questions? And the Swedes doing the cleaning will then share the stories behind these objects, giving their descendants a window into their lives and what these objects meant to them.
Sometimes, as you can imagine, the process of dostadning coincides with the decision of a Swede to downsize his or her home and move into an apartment. And I know that over the past several months, quite a few members of our community have spoken to me about the process by which you have planned or plan in the near future to downsize your homes. You’ve told me about the arduous process of going through your stuff. Yet death cleaning, according to the author of the article, it happens when anyone, whether you are in your 30s or your 60s; it just has to mark a moment when you begin to think about what it is in your life that life really matters, and what it is that you want to pass on.
As we find ourselves in the middle of Pesach approaching Yizkor this morning, I couldn’t help but think just how this Swedish cultural experience is so linked to the holiday that we observe.
First and most obviously perhaps, Dostadning I believe finds a deep connection to Pesach and Yizkor because on both occasions involve a rigorous cleaning out our homes. On Pesach, like dostadning, we try to purge ourselves of all of the leavened stuff, the fluff and clutter that takes up room in our room.
Yet if you read the Sefas Emes, the work Alter Rebbe, and his comments about Pesach, you will see the cleaning that we do for Pesach is not only a spring seasonal cleaning, but like dostadning is also intended to be a deeper look at ourselves: a dostadning of our neshamas, our souls. On Pesach, according to the Alter Rebbe, we not only are supposed to clean out that which is crumby in our homes, but to put it bluntly, that which is crumby about us. Pesach is when we purge the peripheral and we keep that which is essential. Our Sedarim, and like Dostadning, are opportunities for us tell stories from our tradition that we think best exemplify the values that hold most dear. Each Seder is an opportunity to bring our children into our story. For many years now on Passover, in my family, we have a ritual where we go around the table--and maybe some of you do this as well--and ask the following question: “If you were leaving Egypt, and you could only take one thing with you, what would it be?” It is a kind of dostadning-light. There is nearly always someone at the table who talks about photographs or a sentimental piece of jewelry, or a USB flash drive full of backups emails and written correspondence. But what I almost never find, when these moments take place, except maybe among some kids at first, is talk about the iPod or money. That’s because Pesach reminds us that those things are all CHAMETZ, they chametz--gashmiyus, materialism, they are peripheral to our story. And while at the end of life we all aspire to leave our children something, what is far greater than money are the products of the dostadning, death cleaning of Pesach: the stories, the values, and the life lessons that come from the Pesach holiday.
Every year, when we come to the Yizkor service, I’d like to think that as we reflect on our loved ones and lives they lived, that this moment today also for us becomes a cathartic kind of dostadning, a moment death cleaning. Perhaps, like Pesach, when we come to Yizkor we at first think back to the moment when we first entered the homes to clean the physical space of our loved ones after their passing, and we remember what it was they left behind. And let’s not kid ourselves, for those of us in American culture who have no dostadning ritual, when we die we do leave so much behind. When my mother of blessed memory died, my dad spent weeks going through the closet and finding clothes from TJ Maxx with all of the tags still attached. This is one kind of cleaning.
Yet when we come to Yizkor, and we think about the Jewish story, what I believe we are also challenged to do is to remember that person’s essence. We clean for Pesach not only a first time, but a second. We get past all of the chametz, the fluff, and recall what that person was really all about. As we approach the Yizkor service, let us remember that today marks not the first time, but the second time we will clean our chametz this Pesach season.