Deborah Katchko-Gray
Pioneer woman cantor, artist and Bubbie.

Second Day Rosh Hashanah. A Yartzeit and PTSD

Second Day Rosh Hashanah, A Yartzeit and PTSD

Do things happen for a reason? Can coincidences be bashert? I believe they can be. Usually I see utter delight in a coincidence of time and space, connections between people and events. This coincidence is not full of joy and not one of delight. It is one that makes me think and remember, and for that I guess I’m grateful. I am grateful for my dear father, Cantor Theodore Katchko,  who not only helped raise me, but taught me literally everything his father taught him,  at the kitchen table, with a simple tape cassette, a siddur and his father’s music at hand.  He reminded me often how lucky I was to learn first-hand from him. You see, my father learned his hazzanut from his famous father mostly second hand. He revealed to me, that he would listen outside the door when his father was teaching his students, mostly cantors learning from the master, my grandfather, Cantor Adolph Katchko. His father was so busy with his students, my father got his lessons second hand.

That’s not why I feel like writing this today. On Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, it will be my beloved father’s English date yartzeit and the traditional Hebrew date yartzeit of his father. I don’t remember it ever falling on the same day like this- on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.  The second day of Rosh Hashanah was a traumatic date for my sweet father.

He was filling in for his father on his majestic pulpit in upper Manhattan. His father had been very ill with a stroke for several years, and was ailing at this time. During the service, the president of the synagogue came up to my father, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “ I’m very sorry to inform you that your father has passed, but it is your Jewish duty to complete the service.”

I don’t believe my father ever recovered fully from that trauma. He had anxiety and depression for most of his life, and had a severe nervous breakdown during my sister’s Bat Mitzvah. I believe the memory of this moment affected his whole life. He was never ready for a full-time pulpit after this, and stayed out of the spotlight the rest of his life. He had a magnificent voice, a gorgeous flexible baritone like his father. The rare compliment he received from his father was , “ you have a voice like a prophet”.

In remembering my beloved father at this time, I am fascinated by this coincidence of events. So many years have passed, and yet I remember his pain and anguish as if it was yesterday.

I contrast the way my father was treated to the incredible love and respect I feel every single day from my congregational leadership and my rabbi. There has been a radical change in the way clergy are treated and life cycle events are respected.

May the coming New Year bring blessings and sensitivity, love and care, peace and strength to all.

About the Author
Fourth generation cantor, second woman to serve a traditional synagogue and founder of the Women Cantors' Network. Deborah studied with Elie Wiesel z"l and continues to be inspired by his teachings. First recipient of the Debbie Friedman Miriam Award. A cantor in Ridgefield, CT since 1999, cellist, tallit Swedish weaving embroiderer, mother of 6, grandmother of two. Wife and friend.
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