Four months down, seven months to go. Months of saying kaddish, that is. When we officially join ‘the kaddish club’, we ought to get a membership card – like the loyalty card at our favourite coffee shop. After each month of saying kaddish, someone stamps the card, and after completing eleven months, we are rewarded with a week’s holiday on a tropical island resort, thousands of miles from a minyan!
When I wrote about The Kaddish Club a couple of years ago, I was inspired by the people who diligently attended our mincha minyan in the Melbourne central business district to fulfil their obligations. The ritual of saying kaddish, like mourning itself, can only really be understood once experienced.
For me, ‘just’ saying kaddish is not enough. My custom is to lead the prayer services (daven at the amud) as well. This is a significant added complexity: many people in the same minyan can say kaddish, but only one can lead the prayers. So my search isn’t just for a minyan, it’s for one where I can (regularly) be the chazan. Even during shiva, I was asking around to see which local minyanim have an open slot available for a regular chazan. Fortunately, in Melbourne we have a large community and many minyanim are available to meet this need. An unfortunate side effect is that my brother and I – who have prayed in the same shacharis minyan every day for over 25 years – now must pray separately for this year of mourning so we can each lead the services.
The search for the next minyan/kaddish is truly consuming. I’ve always been one to plan things ahead and make sure everything is in my diary. This has gone to a new level, with every minyan time going in first – in some cases weeks or months in advance – so that anything else must fit around it.
Even with everything planned meticulously, things don’t always go to plan. I might be stuck in traffic, or meeting will go longer than expected. Suddenly, I am filled with the anxiety of “what if I don’t get there in time?” This might lead to rapid call-around to the local minyanim and other mourners to make alternative plans, or just a general nervous worrying feeling that will not subside until I know I will get there in time. Having Waze telling me the fastest route to synagogue and when I should expect to arrive has been most helpful.
All of this leads to a general reluctance to go anywhere – to deviate from the comfort of the daily minyan at the same place and the same time, that I know will be there for me. Perhaps that is appropriate during the mourning period, but it feels like being chained to the amud.
This constant repetition of kaddish and leading the prayers becomes mind-numbing after a time. In the early months, I needed to concentrate extra hard to maintain the correct pronunciation and pace, and not let my mind drift. More recently, the words have become so automatic that I stop thinking, sometimes staring off into the candles in front of me, and sometimes – if I’m fortunate – thinking of my father’s soul, and wondering about the effect of my prayers on his spiritual journey.
The regularity of daily minyanim is all-encompassing and exhausting; it fills my life. I’ve developed a new appreciation for Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh – the days when I am ineligible to lead the services, and therefore my obligation reverts to ‘just’ saying kaddish. Almost any minyan will do, and I don’t need to be there a few minutes before the start – I can relax and pray at my own pace (and step out for a whisky at the appropriate time). These are the little joys that punctuate the year. I especially look forward to when my sister attends on Shabbat and we say kaddish together in our respective sections of the shul.
With Pesach approaching, I have mixed feelings. Spending Pesach away with our children will be enjoyable and relaxing family time, yet the absence of my father will be deeply felt. It’s yet another step in this journey.
For more in this series, see Shiva: sitting then getting up, And who before his time, and ‘Hamakom’ as a Verb and Transactional Judaism, .and Celebrating Liberation without the one Liberated. Connect with David Werdiger on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.