Kaddish for our fallen soldiers

On Yom Hazikaron, as we in Israel remember our fallen soldiers and victims of terror, I consider one of my memories from my year of Kaddish.

David Golovensis, a 22-year-old soldier and neighbor of mine was tragically killed during his army service just last July, about six weeks after my mother died.  When I heard the news, my heart contracted, and my thoughts went immediately to his dear parents, my neighbors. Moving into the neighborhood about eight years ago they often attended our very small synagogue and we became friends in a casual sort of way.

After attending the funeral on Mt.Herzl attended by thousands, and paying a condolence visit to a house that was overflowing with people who came to comfort, I considered  how difficult it is to know how to help people who are going through such a horrific event.  While as a trauma psychologist I may be well versed in how people mourn, as a good neighbor, what could I do?  What should I do?  These thoughts plagued me.  Would I be too pushy or inappropriate if I called? Would they welcome a visit?

The first time I saw Shimon, the father of David, after the Shiva, the traditional seven days of mourning, it was in our small neighborhood synagogue.  He had now joined me in the Mourner’s Kaddish.   While I had never said a solitary Kaddish, for the most part I did not know who the Kaddish sayers were mourning for.  This time, I knew. I could picture David with his beautiful smile. I could feel the sharp pain of sudden loss in Shimon’s words, echoing my softer pain of losing an elderly mother.  That first day, I said the words of the Kaddish together with Shimon, even more fervently than usual, hoping that somehow this ancient formula would bring even a sliver of comfort to Shimon and his family.

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What are we actually saying, when we chant the age worn words? And why is this the prayer that mourners are tasked with saying at every prayer service, sometimes three, four or five times?  Written in Aramaic, the lingua franca  of the age when it was penned, the prayer sanctifies and glorifies G-d’s name.  How has this come to be associated with death? There is not one word about death in this prayer, nor about loss, mourning, or comfort. Why should this be the prayer for the dead, the prayer that mourners say day in, and day out, for weeks and months?

The thought occurs to me as I say this prayer together with this heartbroken father, that Kaddish serves as an anchor as we navigate the stormy, dark waters of grief. It is easy to lose our way, to wonder if all of our lives and our efforts are for naught to think about the pointlessness of our existence, of everything. Pain overwhelms. Saying Kaddish grounds us and reminds us that there is a Supreme Being in the world and that what happens is somehow supposed to happen, even if we cannot fathom the whys and the wherefores. Saying the Kaddish over and over, like a mantra, pulls us back, and reminds us to find meaning in our lives and in our losses, even if the clouds cover the way, and the sun remains hidden.

The Kaddish prayer ends with a supplication for peace. Herein lays the few, simple words of comfort for all of us mourners experiencing the pain of loss.  We pray for peace from heaven for all of us, and all of Israel, knowing deep in our hearts that if there is to be any comfort, or any solace on this difficult, dark journey, it will have to be from a heavenly, otherworldly source. May He who makes peace in high places grant peace upon us and upon all Israel. Amen.

May He who makes peace bring abundant peace especially to the families of our fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Amen.

About the Author
Naomi L Baum, Ph.D., is an international consultant in the field of psychological management of traumas and disasters with an emphasis on resilience. She recently published a book, "Life Unexpected: A Trauma Psychologist Journeys through Breast Cancer." She is the mother of seven and grandmother of 12.
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