By Larry Gordon
My mother’s third yahrzeit is in about six weeks, but I’m not exactly dealing with that yet. Next week my grandsons will conclude saying Kaddish for their father, Chaim Moshe ben Binyamin Tzvi (Hirsch), and though almost 11 months have elapsed, there is an unreal dimension to that reality.
I bring up my mom because it was after the near-year of saying Kaddish that I discovered when that thrice-daily recitation finally ended that, once again, I was feeling a renewed sense of loss.
There I was, saying Kaddish with a minyan three times a day, sailing along seamlessly and then — boom — all of a sudden, it unceremoniously came to an end. It was as if without warning, those words of hope and faith in Kaddish had ceased and now I had to deal with how I was going to once again adjust to its absence from my daily life.
The difference this time around is that although I, too, have recited Kaddish with the boys with some consistency — just to keep them company, so to speak — I am trying to prepare an 11- and 12-year-old for the same things I had to grapple with just a brief three years ago.
The conclusion of Kaddish, as we understand it, signifies that the neshamah of the departed is elevated to a greater and higher realm of a big beautiful world that is somewhere out there and way beyond our capacity to grasp.
I still maintain that one of the proofs that the next world is beyond our comprehension is that, aside from some Talmudic references, we have no idea what specifically it is all about. My feeling is that if it was not extraordinary and beyond our wildest imagination, somehow word would have leaked out.
Be that as it may, I’m certain you would agree this is not something for me to even try to communicate to these young children. They have been seriously committed to saying Kaddish all these months, always calculating where they will be and whether any activities in the course of the year would include a minyan for Kaddish, which was obviously imperative.
For the oldest, now 12, one event outside of his usual day was our trip to Israel on El Al, which, as you know, is pretty safe in terms of being able to pull together a minyan for any of the daily tefillos. Our day flight to Israel included a Minchah minyan in the airport and a Ma’ariv minyan mid-flight in the back of the plane.
Other parts of that trip included a Minchah minyan at Kever Rachel, another Minchah a few days later at Me’aras HaMachpeilah, and then Ma’ariv that evening in Bnei Brak.
So now I’m thinking how to effectively and comfortably communicate the meaning and changes inherent in the process of their recitation of Kaddish coming to a conclusion. These kids just might be too young to intellectually absorb the emotion associated with no longer being obligated in saying Kaddish.
The first thing that happens if you daven in the same place daily is that on the day that you are no longer saying Kaddish, people will turn around, look in your direction, and react as if you were distracted and just forgot to say Kaddish. There is a sort of adjustment on that level as well. One needs to understand that the silence after Aleinu — if you are the only one saying Kaddish — makes an impression on the minyan or congregation as a unit unto itself. It is not only a matter of you missing your Kaddish; they will also note that it has gone.
That is amplified many times when it is children who are reciting the Kaddish. There are few things in life more heartbreaking or attention-grabbing than a young boy plodding his way through Kaddish each and every day for almost a year.
At first we had to acclimate to those soft boyish voices that stood out in an extreme way even when there was a crowd of mature voices saying it along with them. In a few days, we will have to deal with the quiet — a sound, if you will, of silence.
At the other end of this specific spectrum on the subject of silence, there is our daughter Malkie, who this year has found her voice right here in these pages. It was not by design or anything that was planned. If anything was ever spontaneous, this was it. Her weekly essays on her new life as a widow and single parent of five young children have touched a chord, and now all these months later we can say that her words have inspired many the world over.
We hear it just about everywhere we go and she hears it everywhere she goes. No, it is not just her refreshing and incisive style. More than anything, it’s her courage and bold decision that, despite the hardships and emotional conflict, if nothing else, these kids deserve and are entitled to a good, healthy, and forward-looking life with a bright and exciting future for each one in their own personal ways.
Malkie’s next-door neighbor, Simon, lost his father about two weeks before Moshe passed away. As was the practice since they moved into Woodmere about a decade ago, there was always a minyan in the Hirsch home on Friday night and then again for Ma’ariv on motzaei Shabbat. While that is certainly convenient, in particular during those winter months, this year it took on additional special meaning.
From the first time I heard the boys say Kaddish on that first afternoon of the shivah, and throughout this year whenever I went to minyan with them, I was struck each time by the incongruity of this situation. At the same time, I have consistently marveled at how steadfast, committed, and brave these good young men have been.
I recall Simon commenting during that first week that in a strange way he felt fortunate to have the opportunity as a next-door neighbor to recite Kaddish together with the boys in the year that at that point was just unfolding before us.
I commented to Dovid and Nison the other day that there were only a couple of weeks to go to the recitation of Kaddish. These two will still attend morning minyan in yeshiva every day and will daven Minchah there and, on some days, Ma’ariv. On the days when there is no yeshiva they will run to minyan, too. They will daven with a minyan because that is what their father always did and that is what the generation prior does as well. But there is no denying that there will be a different dynamic at play.
In about a week, when davening ends, they will stand there, silent. But their thought process and their memories will be noted and loudly articulated. Their presence will be a tribute to their tatty, a great husband and a wonderful son and brother, always on our minds and forever in our thoughts.