This festival evening of Pesach, we might safely say, that even amidst the confusion and the chaos of our lives and our world, that those of us who gather in this room, will never have an experience much like that of Nahmani. And yet the words that he uses to describe his Passover, speak volumes of truth on this occasion of Yizkor, this time in which we gather to remember our loved ones. Nahmani writes:
These were difficult hours of soul searching. When you are a prisoner of war, the memories rise up and choke you. You think about home, trying to sense the smells and the holiday feeling at twilight...Time crawls by at its own pace.
Nahmani's words, even from a starkly different context, are powerful and poignant. Pesach is a time when our memories rise up and choke us, no matter where we may celebrate this festival. Because our memories are inescapable, because we think about home, and because all of us are prisoners of our own grief who remember of Grandma's chicken matzo ball soup, the playful way in which our grandfather amusingly led the Seder, the parent who insisted we pay attention but wondered out loud when it would be time for dessert, the spouse with whom we locked hands underneath the table during the longer parts of the Haggadah, the sibling who always seemed to get stuck with reading the part accorded "the wicked child," or perhaps even our own child, who never had the opportunity to ask the four questions. When we stop to consider the absence, the loss, the pain, the brokenness, the heartbreak present at each of our tables, it is then, like Nahmani expresses, that for us too, time crawls by at its own pace.
But Nahmani's story is also one of triumph. He writes:
Two Haggadahs and some matza crumbs sent by the Chief Rabbi of Zurich gave us the feeling of a real Passover. When Boaz, the youngest among us - almost a kid - sang the four questions, tears welled up in my throat. But then came the singing! It was such a strange scene. In the most heavily guarded prison of an enemy state, three Israeli prisoners are singing songs of the ancient holiday of liberty.
Here we are, singing songs in our sanctuary. There we were on Monday and Tuesday night, singing songs at our dinner tables. How can we sing songs when our lives are filled with unspeakable, unquestionable, unimaginable grief, sadness, longing, and sorrow? How can we sing songs when we are lonely, when we miss our loved ones, when all we want is for them to be at our side?
How can we not sing? Nahmani's message is that to sing is to be victorious, even when we are imprisoned, whether by outside force, or by inner sorrow. Nahmani's message is that if we can find something worth singing about, if we can find something about our loved one's life that is worth celebrating, if we can find something worth praising God for, even amidst our pain, we can emerge stronger - never completely whole, never completely healed, but stronger. The guards tried to get Nahmani and his fellow prisoners to stop, but as Nahmani says, "Even that awful threat could not silence the sound of freedom."
Jewish tradition reminds us, at this season of Yizkor, that each of us is a prisoner of our own grief, and even more importantly, that each of us has an opportunity to set ourselves free and to help set free others around us. We free others when we pause to listen to their grief, sit with them in their sorrow, or join our community and help them make a minyan. We free ourselves when we stand to recite memorial prayers, when we praise God's name through Kaddish, when we remember our loved ones in heartfelt ways, and when we allow our voices to rise in song. When we act as a community, when we perform loving acts of kindness, we free others and ourselves at the same time.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once taught:
There are three ways to grieve. To weep, to be silent, and to sing. The first way to mourn is to weep: even if our tears are for ourselves, for our ache of loneliness, for our pain of loss, they are still sacred, for they are the tears of love....The second way to mourn is to be silent: to behold the mystery of love, to recall a shared moment, to remember a word or a glance, or simply at some unexpected moment, to miss someone very much and wish that he or she could be here....The third way to mourn is to sing: to sing a hymn to life, a life that still abounds in sights and sounds and vivid colors; to sing the song our beloved no longer has the chance to sing. We sing the songs of our beloved; we aspire to their qualities of spirit; and we trust in our heart that there is a God who hears the bittersweet melody of our song.
In these moments of Yizkor, moments when time crawls by at its own pace, moments when our memories rise up and choke us, we remember, that we are not alone, and we remember that we must allow our voices to rise in song, even when it hurts, and because it always hurts.
 "Songs of Freedom in a Syrian Prison," A Night To Remember: A Haggadah of Contemporary Voices, p. 37.
 Abraham Joshua Heschel, quoted in Jewish Pastoral Care: A Practical Handbook from Traditional and Contemporary Sources, Ed. Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman, pp. 427-8.