By Larry Gordon
We are one disparate but dynamic group with a common bond. We are five men who lost one of our parents during the last half-year or so, and now at Shacharis every morning we recite Kaddish in unison.
We mosey on in close to 7:30 a.m., don tallis and tefillin, and are lined up and ready as the clock strikes the bottom of the hour.
So how did we get here and how was it that we were thrown together in such a fashion? The five of us share an involuntary camaraderie; it’s an unarticulated bond that, for now anyway, is as unbreakable as it is comforting.
None of us chose to be placed in this position, though in some of our cases it was obviously inevitable. Sure, it had to happen but not necessarily at this particular juncture.
Three of us lost our mothers, the two others their fathers, and we are all saying Kaddish for 11 months. One of the five is my brother who lives here in the Five Towns; our mom was in her mid-nineties. The other gentleman we daven with also lost his mom, who was also in her nineties. The other two lost their dads. One father was about 80; the father of the other young man saying Kaddish was just 61.
The five of us are there almost every day, except when we are traveling or davening elsewhere, which we make sure is a rare occurrence. We say Kaddish together five times every morning. Over the months that we have been doing this, we’ve learned each other’s vocal rhythm; we say, sing, hum, and adjust our voices in a ragtag type of harmony so that our Kaddish is not only a fulfillment of our obligation and commitment to the memory of our parents, but an exercise that rebuilds our internal fortitude and psyche after the experience of our losses.
The odd thing about our group is that we all experienced our loss within a few weeks of one another. At first it was just me, my brother, and Nachman, who lost his mother a month before our mom passed away. Then one day I walk into shul and see a new guy (Eliezer) at the amud; we quickly found out that he just got up from shivah that morning.
Then two weeks later at Minchah on a Sunday afternoon there is another even younger man–Isaac–at the amud who explains that he just arose from shivah that morning after the passing of his 61-year-old father. That is when it occurred to me that aveilus, or rather saying Kaddish, was not dissimilar to driving a bus–you pick up passengers along the way.
So, as you can see, we are not exactly a gang, but rather a group thrown together by this unpredictable thing called fate. We interact with and respect one another, and we defer to and accommodate each other as we share leading the service, or “davening for the amud.”
My hope and prayer is that you never have to endure this reality, but as you know from the experience of family members or friends or reading these occasional essays, it is quite a long and interesting journey that manifests itself in a variety of ways in different people’s lives.
My brother and I are in our seventh month of our Kaddish trek. So we have about four months to go, which is not a short amount of time, though that needs to be placed into perspective. We alternate with the others at the amud, and frequently at Minchah and Ma’ariv there are enough people to divide into three or sometimes even four minyanim.
Most of our daily Kaddish gang has now passed the halfway point in this odyssey and we have acknowledged that fact with some of our small talk after davening, even preliminarily discussing how we are going to deal with this prayer-filled journey drawing to conclusion. Frankly, this idea produces some mixed feelings amongst the group. One of the extended group, someone who joins us mostly for Minchah and Ma’ariv, will be the first to conclude the Kaddish trip, in just two weeks. That event will be a yard marker of sorts, inasmuch as the next person after that will finish about six weeks after that, and then there will be us, about five weeks after that.
This exercise reminds me of the restlessness that takes place after the long ten-hour flight from New York to Tel-Aviv. After some rest and breakfast–and after they hand out those little hot towels that are supposed to jolt you awake–someone usually announces over the public-address system that we have begun our initial descent into Tel-Aviv. It might take another hour or more, but that is the yard marker and demarcation in time as we are about to arrive in Eretz Yisrael.
Our destination for now is not geographic but rather an intangible finish line that we can begin to see in the distance. But there is no real line that we can point to, as it is all conceptual, emotional, and personal.
You might be thinking that this sounds like we are the only few people who ever endured this type of experience, but we know that is not the case. Shuls everywhere are populated with people saying Kaddish as they mourn the loss of loved ones. It is obvious, however, that the only experience along these lines that I can share is my own.
Long after shivah and the Shloshim period, Kaddish serves to soothe. And there is a method to this extended, elongated period over which it is recited repeatedly. So is Kaddish a sort of final respect that one can pay to a parent? The definitive answer to that is yes and no. Those who have experienced these events know and understand that a relationship with a parent is eternal. They might have vanished but they never go away. Perhaps you cannot speak to them the way you used to, but you can certainly still communicate with them.
There is another person in our daily morning minyan who, though he is saying Kaddish, never leads the service or davens for the amud. He is a doctor, and even though all these months have come and gone, I did not ask him who he is saying Kaddish for until a few days ago.
I thought he might tell me that he was saying Kaddish for a distant relative, a grandparent, or something along those lines. Actually, he surprised me when he said he was saying Kaddish for elderly patients of his who passed away and have no one to say Kaddish for them, for whatever reasons.
“So you’re not going to stop saying Kaddish anytime soon,” I said.
He looked at me, thought for a moment, and then said, “Unlikely.”
“That doesn’t really make a difference,” I told him. “You’re still one of the gang.”
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