Last Shabbos in Brooklyn, at his aufruf, my nephew Nissan Gordon spent a few moments speaking about my mom — his grandmother—and how he is still adjusting to the idea of her passing a little more than a year ago.
His words brought tears to my eyes as the chassan, teary-eyed as well, talked about the people who influenced and inspired him in his life, which included both sets of his grandparents and many others, some no longer with us.
His deeply meaningful reminiscence struck a chord with all of those present who knew my mom — especially her children and grandchildren who loved her to no end.
As I have mentioned many times in the past year, the act of mourning, especially the focus on saying Kaddish three times daily, was intense. Those who have been in the position of saying Kaddish for a parent or another loved one know well that the onus of the traditional practice is an all-encompassing and dominating daily responsibility. In its own special way, Kaddish controls, rules, and indeed changes your life during those eleven months and, in a sense, afterward as well.
Before I analyze the process, let me take a few moments to expound upon life in the immediate aftermath of the thrice-plus daily recitation. The end of the Kaddish process concludes almost as suddenly and, in some ways, unexpectedly, as often begins.
For those acquainted with the Kaddish protocol, there you are, deliberately running to minyan and going through your so-called routine. And then it happens: the day arrives and the calendar brings the entire effort to a halt. Of course it is not a sudden halt, because from the very first moment of the very first day you are well aware of what the concluding date will be and when the last Kaddish will be said.
Still, I have to say, it sneaks up on you. The first day or two after not having to say Kaddish anymore, I found myself dealing with a different kind of void in my life. It was actually just about ten weeks ago when we stopped reciting Kaddish, and in the immediate aftermath I was walking around thinking to myself, “First they took my mother away and now they took my Kaddish.”
“They” wasn’t referring to anyone in particular; it was just the system that has been passed down from generation to generation.
While there are still things that I miss about saying Kaddish every day, there are also things I do not miss. The pressure to be in shul way before each tefillah so I do not miss anything. Davening from the amud or just saying Kaddish when I am traveling or on the move. Those days and occasions were especially difficult because saying Kaddish almost demands that it be recited or performed inside a routine.
Take, for example, the time just prior to Pesach when we traveled to Israel for my mother’s and my father-in-law’s yahrzeits, and actually had the flexibility to travel one way with Swiss Air Lines and the other way with Lufthansa instead of with the flying minyan factory that is El Al. As we were waiting for our connecting flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv, there were seven of us putting on tallis and tefillin and davening without a minyan. I don’t know about the others, but there I was getting ready to pray in Zurich and thinking that just a few weeks ago I could not have done this.
Now I find myself drawn to the pastime of trying to figure out who is presently saying Kaddish. Of course, people should not be engaging in conversation during davening, but that is particularly true for the few moments that a mourner is reciting Kaddish. Some people reading these lines may misunderstand me, but talking when someone is saying Kaddish, especially if you are standing right next to him, is disrespectful and an affront to the individual saying Kaddish.
When I go to shul, whether it is Shabbos or a weekday, I am sensitive to the sound of the voices around me and the occasional introduction to new sources of the recitation on a daily basis.
No, I cannot say that I miss having to be constantly aware of the clock and the minyan schedule around town. I found it particularly restrictive when, for example, I was in a place where there was just one minyan for Minchah or Ma’ariv.
Last summer, I took a step out of my routine and traveled to Vermont for a few days. That trip required some extraordinary Kaddish-oriented planning. It wasn’t just a long drive up north. I had to search out shuls along the way and find out their minyan schedule.
I discovered a shul in Albany — a well-traveled city up the northern corridor on the way to places like Vermont. Thanks to Waze, we were able to chart our travel course in a methodical and precise fashion, check into a hotel, catch Ma’ariv, buy some kosher food in a nearby supermarket, get some sleep, get up early for the one summer Shacharis minyan, and then continue on our way to our intended location and the next minyan.
A few days ago, I was chatting after davening with a lone individual who was saying Kaddish in a shul in Brooklyn. He told me that over the last few months he had to travel to China a couple of times, which meant that the minyan situation was challenging, to say the least.
I know what I had to deal with on trips to Israel, Florida, and the one jaunt to Vermont, so I asked him how he did it. His response was that he has a few brothers also saying Kaddish for the parent so, in a sense, he added, there was Kaddish coverage.
We are also three brothers and each of us over the last year was determined to recite the multiple Kaddishim inside of three minyanim every day, and we were baruch Hashem successful.
But now it is over, and while it felt like something was missing for a little while, I have been able to adjust to my new non-Kaddish reality relatively quickly.
Kaddish was a way to hold on to a transitional reality. Now a new season is approaching and we will be able to travel and move around with less restrictiveness than last year. I will still be watching the clock for minyan times, but admittedly with less intensity. A daily Kaddish is no longer required in order to hold on to what was. Now all I have to do is find new ways to achieve exactly that — to hold on.
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