• Leann Shamash

The Memory Room

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

#thememoryroom #covid #congregationkehillathisrael #ki #morningminyan #memory #buildingcommunity #memories #sharingmemories






As I have written before, during the pandemic I began to kaddish at Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline. In April of 2020 I began to frequent the morning minyan and I found that it was a special place. It felt home grown and what was particularly interesting to me was the organic construction of the minyan. Each morning different people led the davening. Sometimes Rabbi Hamilton gave Divrei Torah, other times other clergy members or community members shared Divrei Torah. It was and it remains a generous space, where the voices of the members are heard and honored. It has been an honor to get to know the congregation and become part of it.


It was in the summer of 2020 when I realized two things: One, that I was so very curious about the people in the Zoom room with me. It is the practice of KI to have people name the name of those whose memories they honor. I knew the names of people who were being remembered, but I wanted to know the people who were saying kaddish and more about whom they were saying kaddish for. Very kindly, the rabbi and the gabbai were happy to introduce a new practice of individuals saying something about their loved ones. I like to think of it as people's stories "in ten words a day."


I also realized, after some time had elapsed with this new practice, that this room was unique to Covid and perhaps even unique to synagogue minyans. The face to face nature of Zoom allowed others to be fully present during sharing time. The moments reciting the liturgy were comforting, but the moments sharing memories were unforgettable. Slowly I was able to build pictures and stories in my mind of who these people were. Eventually I began to feel closer and closer to the people in the room who sat there with me each morning. The Memory Room was a little bit of history being made in a tiny Zoom room during the pandemic. The Memory Room was the history of those who had passed, yes, but it was also a circle within a circle, a bit of history within an historical period.






I believed these moments to be important so I began to document this room. I documented by going out and meeting the different members of the minyan and taking their photos. I began to take photos of the minyan through my computer while people prayed. I recorded their voices. Because of the nature of Zoom, I was able to capture moments where others made their home space their sacred space during morning minyan. When the synagogue opened up for minyan late last fall, I was also able to take photos of the service from my seat at my desk at home. The images that appear in the project document people and moments

and sacred space and moments through the lens of a camera over the monitor of a computer.


During this time I also asked participants in the morning minyan to write words about the power of the minyan and also about their loved ones. It was important to me that in this project which came to life through a computer monitor, that feelings should be expressed using handwriting, which I hoped would add a different dimension to the project. These snippets are not always easy to read, but I also consider them to be a living testimony to unique individuals and to a unique time where funerals were cut out, shiva either didn't exist or was done on-line and people were deprived of their ability to grieve with the community. These snippets, these stories, this room became a shiva room, a room to progress through the eleven months and a room where a group of people shared and grew together, all on a screen.


There are many instances which we have read about unique positive situations created by the constrictions in our lives during Covid. This is just one, but it is one that I will hold close to my heart long after this period of time is over. This is my "Memory Room."


To see the full version of "The Memory Room" please go to The Memory Room.








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