I wrote the following January 9, 2009 as a note on Facebook, before I think I had a blog (definitely before this one). I got to my office after saying Kaddish (read below for more information) and I just had to write something. Saying Kaddish for my mother was an unexpected experience, one I felt I had to capture in words.
Nearly four years later, I’d write it a little differently, but I think it is still one of the best things I ever wrote. Just wish that the event that ultimately led to it, namely my mother’s death, never happened.
The picture is from about 1957
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As many of you know, my mother passed away the evening of Tuesday, February 19, 2008 (14 of Adar I on the Hebrew calendar). Today is the 13th of Tevet, 11 months less one day. And that is the amount of time you are supposed to say Kaddish for a parent.
Yesterday, I was driving to the office after a doctor’s appointment. I was listening to sports talk radio and the topic was what is the one thing you did in your life that you are least proud of. Predictably, almost of the callers were talking about incredible stories of alcohol abuse (mostly at Central Michigan University).
I don’t want to address that topic.
Kaddish Yatom (or just Kaddish) is the memorial prayer said for a parent, spouse, sibling or child. Kaddish is said 6 times a day at my synagogue – 4 times during the morning service, once in the afternoon service and once in the evening service. There is an additional Kaddish said Friday during Kabbalat Shabbat. That’s 43 times a week. Over 11 months less one day that comes to close to 2,000 times you say Kaddish.
You can’t say Kaddish by yourself. You need to have a community of 10 adult Jews to say Kaddish and certain other prayers. That generally means you have to go a synagogue twice a day – first thing in the morning, and then late afternoon or evening for the afternoon and evening services (they are generally said one after the other).
My mother was buried on Thursday February 21 (15 of Adar I). We had Shiva for the full week. Friday morning February 22 I went to our synagogue for morning services and I have been in a synagogue every day since then. And not just once a day – for every day but maybe 20 I was there twice a day.
I have said Kaddish at my synagogue, B’nai Moshe. I’ve said Kaddish most Monday – Thursday afternoons at Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. I’ve said Kaddish at a couple of Reform congregations, at a couple of other Conservative congregations, at Young Israel of Southfield, at an Orthodox synagogue in West Bloomfield, and at the Hillel at University of Michigan. I’ve said Kaddish at a small Orthodox congregation in Las Vegas, at a modern Orthodox congregation in downtown Chicago, at a Conservative synagogue in Toronto, at a very small Orthodox congregation in Toronto and at a Chabad Lubavitch congregation in Toronto where I had no idea what was going on. I’ve said Kaddish at my brother in-law’s house after the 1st Passover Seder, at my sister’s house before the 2nd Passover Seder, and at my wife’s cousin’s house in Okemos during a party for their son’s Bar Mitzvah. I said Kaddish at the MSU Chabad with people I had never met before who stayed a couple of hours extra so I could say Kaddish for a Shabbat Mincha (afternoon service).
I did this at first because it was for my mother. I saw my father do this for my grandfather (my mother’s father), for his mother and my mother do this for her mother. I have seen others do it over the years. I did this because it was the right thing to do.
But I got far more from doing this than I expected. I have gotten to know many people I’ve known for a long time at B’nai Moshe much better – many of whom were also saying Kaddish. I have gotten to know many wonderful people at Shaarey Zedek in Southfield that I would never have gotten to know if I hadn’t gone there to say Kaddish. I met people, if only briefly, at the other synagogues where I said Kaddish that I would have otherwise never met.
Saying Kaddish became a very important part of the grieving process for me. There is something very comforting in saying Kaddish with your fellow mourners that has helped me deal with the grief from losing my mother.
There have been times where it has been more difficult. Thanksgiving day I was leading services and thinking about my mother, because her disease first surfaced the day before Thanksgiving 2006. As we were nearing the final two recitations of Kaddish at the morning service, Cantor Berris announced we were saying a special reading for Thanksgiving. I found it and read the first few words, which were something along the lines of “How the mighty have fallen.” And I broke down in tears and struggled to say the final two recitations of Kaddish.
As this day approached, I thought of how to mark the end of the Kaddish period. During Maariv (evening) services last night, I said the entire Hashchevaynu paragraph out loud. This prayer starts with “Lay us down to sleep in peace, raise us erect to life and spread over us the shelter of your peace.” This morning I said all of Psalm 20 out loud; Psalm 20 is said at most non Sabbath morning services and is viewed as a prayer to G-d for help in times of distress. For this afternoon, I plan on saying the Shema Kolaynu prayer in the Amidah with special emphasis – “Hear our voice, pity and be compassionate to us, and accept – with compassion and favor – our prayer.” I broke down last night and this morning when doing this, and I suspect I will again this afternoon.
A couple of months ago, I realized I was “ready” for the Kaddish period to be over. Now that is over, I’m not so sure. Saying Kaddish has been a means of connection to my mother. That connection will now be lost. I will have to find other ways to maintain a sense of connection to her.
I have been asked by many people why I have done this. Not many people these days say Kaddish every day for the 11 months. I can’t answer for other people. I am not an overly assertive person. I try to do what I think is right and hope that my example inspires others to do what is right. I needed to do this for my mother, and for me, to show others how I honor my mother and her memory. Until just now I don’t think I realized it was probably the best way I could ever keep the commandment to “Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be long upon the soil which G-d, your G-d, is giving you.”
Some people call sports talk radio stations and talk about a particular episode of alcohol abuse as the thing they are least proud of. I am proud of my wife and my children. And at the risk of losing some humility, I am proud that I have been able to honor my mother and her memory in this way.
Zichrona liv’racha – May her memory be for a blessing.