By Malkie Hirsch
Tonight was Dovid’s last Kaddish.
“Kaddish Yasom.” How many hundreds of times have my eyes glossed over those previously irrelevant words in the siddur? The stuff we don’t say. For minyan, for mourners. Not us. Little did I realize what a big role that little paragraph would soon play in our lives.
It followed a beautiful Shabbos of connecting and eating with neighbors who care for us and are sensitive to our needs. They show up for us in such a modest way. At first the thought might have scared me, eating there and feeling like only half a couple. But strangely, it somehow felt normal and we genuinely had a great time. My parents came for Shabbos, a Shabbos I didn’t initially think of as different than any other Shabbos for the last 11 months, except that this one was so different.
This was the last time Dovid would raise his sweet voice to recite Kaddish for his dad. Sometimes he’d say it along with others, but you could always distinguish that it was a child’s voice reciting it. That would often elicit a turned head or two, looking and wondering: Who is this boy? What’s his story? Sometimes people would approach him and ask straight out, or sometimes they’d try to find out from others. Dovid would anticipate that when he went somewhere new; maybe people didn’t know what he has been through in the last 11 months. They’d be curious, which made him sad and uncomfortable, because it’s hard enough to be a 12-year-old boy saying Kaddish for his father; to have to absorb new reactions from other people added another layer of distress.
“Yisgadal v’yiskadash Sh’mei rabbah” — Let His great Name be increased and holy. These universal, haunting words, asking to sanctify this broken world…
Tonight, while standing in the kitchen listening to him and his 11-year-old brother, Nison, say Kaddish, it brought me back to last March, to the first Shabbos after Moshe passed. We stood in the kitchen listening to Dovid, then 11, and his 10-year-old brother, Nison, stumbling over the unfamiliar words, trying to say it correctly. My father stood nearby, keeping the place and reciting slowly along with them to teach them how it was supposed to be said. Everything about that scene felt so wrong.
“In the world that He made according to His will” — G-d’s world. G-d’s will.
It certainly wasn’t my will. But here were my little boys, praising G-d’s will as a reaction to their unspeakable loss. Who is like you, Israel?
Did I ever think hearing something like that would affect me the way it did? I honestly don’t remember how I remained standing and didn’t fall to the ground from the devastation of having to hear my boys at their age say what they had to say.
On that first Shabbos, we set out shot glasses as we did this Shabbos, for the neshamah to have an aliyah. On this Shabbos, we set out shot glasses (and some grape juice for said 12-year-old) to say a l’chaim to Dovid’s holy neshamah, for having the strength that many others don’t, regardless of their age, regardless of many factors involved.
It’s been 11 months, and Dovid’s been many places besides Barnard Avenue and the Island Shul to say Kaddish. We laughed tonight, reminiscing about the places he’s said this prayer. In a Disney hotel, on a flight to Israel, in restaurants, in some random shuls where he’d see the spin of a head or two following the young voice expertly reciting this prayer, at Camelback, unsuccessfully trying at Barclays Center but then catching it in Far Rockaway at 11:30 p.m. where he davened the longest Ma’ariv of his young life.
“And give sovereignty to His kingdom” — whatever he’s been through, Dovid tenaciously, consistently pronounced Hashem as his King.
There were times he’d come back from a bar mitzvah of a classmate and tell me that though he tried getting a minyan together, he couldn’t and can I please drive him to Young Israel.
Of course, I’d be in bed as he asked and would pause, sigh, grab my keys and slippers, and off we’d go, where I’d sit in the parking lot, meeting some looks from passersby wondering what the crazy lady in pajamas is doing at Young Israel at 10 p.m.
“Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, uplifted, honored, sublimated, serenaded” — the Kaddish prayer beseeches listeners to admire the greatness of G-d, but I can only see the divine greatness reflected in the soul of my son, as he honors the soul of my departed husband — these wonderful men, created in G-d’s image, proud lives centered on Him.
Tonight, the rav of our shul came by to congratulate Dovid on his tremendous accomplishment of saying Kaddish for the last 11 months perfectly, making a minyan every day, three times a day. He told Dovid that he did something a lot of people can’t or don’t do, and oftentimes they’re older and have a driver’s license, which makes things infinitely easier. Despite all of his challenges — being a young boy, dependent on others to get him where he needed to be, checking minyanim times relentlessly — this is something he set out to do, and he did it quietly and got it done, just like his father. I know how proud Moshe is.
Before his trip to Disney, Dovid made me promise that someone would escort him to minyan, and if I couldn’t guarantee it, he wouldn’t go. He’d pass up a trip of a lifetime if he’d miss a minyan, my little man.
When we got to Camelback, he and Benji scoped out the minyan room, double- and triple-checking that it would be happening at the time posted. He scheduled everything around davening, and I know it’s because of his endless love for his father and because it would be the last physical act he could do for Moshe. And Dovid wouldn’t let him down.
“Blessing, song, consolation, praise that we say in this world, and we say ‘Amen’” — After all this, he sings, he praises. Amen? Affirmation? From where did he get this strength? From us? From his father, or maybe from his Father? How?
It was that cord that connected him to his father, and with every prayer recited, Dovid knew that Moshe’s neshamah was getting to his final resting place.
Tonight as Rabbi Ralbag said a l’chaim and told Dovid how proud he was and surely how proud his father is of his dedication this past year, he stated that this show of love and commitment is proof that Dovid will have the ability to meet many of life’s challenges successfully and maturely, just as he did with Kaddish. I stood by watching their exchange and knew that he was right.
Though I should be the example for my children, the role model and mother they look to when they’re unsure and scared, in the words of Chazal: “Nitzchuni banai — my sons have surpassed me.” I find myself in awe of Dovid, the 12-year-old boy who became a man too soon, a year before his bar mitzvah, because that was G-d’s plan for him, for some reason only He can know. Dovid could have reacted in any one of a number of ways. But he chose to make a kiddush Hashem, to sanctify G-d’s name, not by denying his pain but by sublimating it through prayer and dedication. He stepped up in a major way and I couldn’t be more proud of the man he’s becoming every day.
“He who makes peace in the Heavens, He will bring peace upon us, and on all of Israel and say, ‘Amen.’”
Postscript: The word “yasom” means orphan, but it also means: “he will be whole.” While Dovid prayed as a “yasom” he chose to link it to “kadesh,” the holiness that will lead him to wholeness.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on Instagram @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.