I don't like plaques. Our synagogues are overly adorned with markers of man's importance instead of the required humility that should accompany and motivate our acts of giving.
Fully realizing the indispensability of these items for the very physical survival of synagogues and knowing that even in ancient synagogues public inscriptions identifying the names of donors was quite widespread, nevertheless, with one major exception, I would, if I could, eliminate this procedure entirely.
Plaques in memory of loved ones have a rightful public place in our houses of worship. This assertion was dramatically reinforced one morning at the conclusion of the daily minyan prayers.
I looked up from my arms as I untied the straps of my tefillin, and an attractive, elderly silver-haired lady was approaching my seat. She was known to me from my weekly Bible class and from her unfailing weekly attendance at Sabbath services as a bright, no nonsense woman. As she passed the Holy Ark, situated on my left, she pressed her fingers over the surface of a small brass plaque, and then brought them to her lips. I realized that this plaque represented a contribution toward the building of the Ark in her husband's honor and memory.
Another primitive act of superstitious sentimentality, I thought uncaringly and critically.
Upon closer consideration, however,it became clear to me that this mechanical gesture was fraught with emotional meaning. Symbolically, the little brass plate with a few inscribed words contained a lifetime of relationship and love. Each time she caressed this lifeless plaque and then kissed her fingers, she recaptured countless kisses of flesh -filled lips shared over decades of marriage. Memory was made real, even indestructible.
We refrain from making images, making ideas and beliefs concrete and tangible. To do so borders on the idolatrous. Yet, as humans of flesh and feeling, can we in fact avoid any and all expression of the invisible through something palpable and within our sensual grasp?
I think not. The gift of gratefulness is well served when we honor our loved ones in very concrete ways, so long as when we do so, we bring beneficence and goodness to others.