May. 20th, 2012

rhu: (torah)
This evening, I will complete the eleven months of saying kaddish for my father. While I remain an avel, a mourner, for another month, in Jewish traditon kaddish is not recited for the last month of the year of mourning.

So at the end of the 7:50 mincha service, I will say kaddish. And at the end of the 8:05 arvit service, I will respond to the kaddish recited by others.

People have asked me how I feel about it, and it's a mixed bag. But one thing that I'm certain of: I'm looking forward to being able to say "Aleinu", the prayer before kaddish, at my own pace, without rushing to make sure I'll be ready to say "Yitgadal".

I don't hold by mystical interpretations of kaddish. I know that for some, there is a concept of an immediate afterlife, and they have the idea that every time a child says kaddish, the soul of the parent ascends one level, and their goal is to ensure that they say kaddish at least enough times to elevate their parent's soul from "doomed to purgatory" to "ensured a place in the next world." Almost sounds like a rule out of Dungeons and Dragons, doesn't it?

That's not how I see kaddish.

A co-worker who lost his mother a few months ago commented to the effect that his mother, a devout Catholic, could now talk to God directly. And in the broader culture in which we live, there is an amorphous concept that the living can ask the dead to intercede on their behalf, that they are somehow closer to God than we are.

That's not the Jewish view. The Psalmist wrote: "The dead do not praise God, nor does anyone who has descended into the grave." My father's ability to pray ended with his last breath eleven months ago. It is we, the living, who can speak words to God --- words of praise and words of anger, words of gratitude and words of despair.

For me, kaddish must have a function in this world, among the living.

And so I have been going to synagogue, twice daily (usually), to say the kaddish that my father cannot. To lead the community in prayer, as my father cannot. To fulfill the fifth commandment, showing respect for my father, in the symbolic act that our people have used for millenia.

In short, to present evidence, through my actions, of what kind of Jew my father was, by demonstrating what kind of Jew my father raised.

And yet that means that, to a greater or lesser degree, my prayers for the last eleven months have not been entirely mine. My father's absence has been a constant companion. About one service out of every six, I have been leading as "the representative of the community," as it is called, which means often I've also been sharing my prayer mindspace with everyone else in the room.

It's gotten crowded in there.

But tonight, at arvit, it will be just me. When I say the "Amen" that concludes my father's one remaining kaddish, the final echo of his voice will fade out, and I will enter the penultimate stage of mourning. I will have to start learning how to leave daily mourning behind, to prepare for the final stage, the one that starts on his first yahrzeit and lasts for the rest of my life.

For the next month, I will be ineligible to lead services both on weekdays (as someone no longer saying kaddish) and on Shabbat and Yom Tov (as one in the year of formal mourning). I intend to use that month to rediscover my own voice, and to find my way back to that quiet, solitary space so I can once again learn how to become intimate with God.
rhu: (torah)
This evening, I will complete the eleven months of saying kaddish for my father. While I remain an avel, a mourner, for another month, in Jewish traditon kaddish is not recited for the last month of the year of mourning.

So at the end of the 7:50 mincha service, I will say kaddish. And at the end of the 8:05 arvit service, I will respond to the kaddish recited by others.

People have asked me how I feel about it, and it's a mixed bag. But one thing that I'm certain of: I'm looking forward to being able to say "Aleinu", the prayer before kaddish, at my own pace, without rushing to make sure I'll be ready to say "Yitgadal".

I don't hold by mystical interpretations of kaddish. I know that for some, there is a concept of an immediate afterlife, and they have the idea that every time a child says kaddish, the soul of the parent ascends one level, and their goal is to ensure that they say kaddish at least enough times to elevate their parent's soul from "doomed to purgatory" to "ensured a place in the next world." Almost sounds like a rule out of Dungeons and Dragons, doesn't it?

That's not how I see kaddish.

A co-worker who lost his mother a few months ago commented to the effect that his mother, a devout Catholic, could now talk to God directly. And in the broader culture in which we live, there is an amorphous concept that the living can ask the dead to intercede on their behalf, that they are somehow closer to God than we are.

That's not the Jewish view. The Psalmist wrote: "The dead do not praise God, nor does anyone who has descended into the grave." My father's ability to pray ended with his last breath eleven months ago. It is we, the living, who can speak words to God --- words of praise and words of anger, words of gratitude and words of despair.

For me, kaddish must have a function in this world, among the living.

And so I have been going to synagogue, twice daily (usually), to say the kaddish that my father cannot. To lead the community in prayer, as my father cannot. To fulfill the fifth commandment, showing respect for my father, in the symbolic act that our people have used for millenia.

In short, to present evidence, through my actions, of what kind of Jew my father was, by demonstrating what kind of Jew my father raised.

And yet that means that, to a greater or lesser degree, my prayers for the last eleven months have not been entirely mine. My father's absence has been a constant companion. About one service out of every six, I have been leading as "the representative of the community," as it is called, which means often I've also been sharing my prayer mindspace with everyone else in the room.

It's gotten crowded in there.

But tonight, at arvit, it will be just me. When I say the "Amen" that concludes my father's one remaining kaddish, the final echo of his voice will fade out, and I will enter the penultimate stage of mourning. I will have to start learning how to leave daily mourning behind, to prepare for the final stage, the one that starts on his first yahrzeit and lasts for the rest of my life.

For the next month, I will be ineligible to lead services both on weekdays (as someone no longer saying kaddish) and on Shabbat and Yom Tov (as one in the year of formal mourning). I intend to use that month to rediscover my own voice, and to find my way back to that quiet, solitary space so I can once again learn how to become intimate with God.

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Andrew M. Greene

January 2013

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