They gather together in the middle of the work day, converging on venues around the Melbourne Central Business District (CBD) for about ten minutes, then returning to their busy work schedules. They are the men of the ‘Kaddish Club’.
There is a long tradition of mincha in the Melbourne CBD – with the earliest recorded minyan in the rag trade area of Flinders Lane in the early 1900s. More recently, minyanim operated in the now-defunct YMHA and various Jewish offices before settling in to a small room at the back of the late Bernie Pushett’s Melbourne Calculator Market in the mid-1980s. Bernie passed the minyan onto CMA Centre at the financial end of Collins St in the 1990s, where it remained for many years and was augmented by weekly shiurim. After his company moved to the suburbs, that minyan moved around briefly before settling at my office, where it has stayed for some five years. We even established an SMS alert system to help co-ordinate the minyan and confirm numbers.
These days, there are three operating minyanim in and around the Melbourne CBD during the winter months and beyond. Of late, the minyan “business” has been very good, but not for reasons we would prefer.
Over the past year, there have been a significant number of deaths in a few of the Orthodox shuls in the community as the elders – aged in their 80s and 90s – pass on from this world. This could not be described as a tragedy – rather the natural cycle of life and death – but it has left a large number of bereaved fiftysomething baby boomers saying kaddish.
Even during the shiva, the issue comes up: the logistics of a busy professional saying kaddish three times a day for nearly a year.
Our Sages taught that mincha is God’s favourite prayer. Shacharis is done in the morning before work, and the maariv prayer can be performed any time after nightfall. But mincha – especially in the winter months when the day is short – requires a person to take time out from their work day to commune with God, albeit briefly.
They start to come in a few minutes before the scheduled start of 1pm. We used to have a rule that the tenth person to walk in the door must be chazan, but on some days we’ve had seven people saying kaddish (out of a minyan of around 15-20), so the halachic rules of precedence regarding who is chazan come into play. Someone still during the shloshim period – in snappy suit and scrappy beard – has priority, except when there is a yahrzeit. And we are well stocked with premium single-malt whisky when that happens.
Our minyan numbers usually whittle away during November as the days get longer (in the southern hemisphere) but this year we have pushed out to late December, and even had a special minyan several times on Friday at one of the premier law firms in Melbourne, where several partners have lost parents in the last year and are regulars at our minyan on the other days of the week. With work extending late most nights, and the usual cycle of end-of-year drinks and functions, making sure one has completed mincha early translates to more flexibility when it comes to maariv.
The commitment to attend shul three times a day for the eleven month period of saying kaddish is demanding and relentless. There are no days off, no holidays, and no respite. Those who are also chazan get a break on Rosh Chodesh and chagim, but must still be there from start to finish if they want to say every single kaddish.
And they do. I’m truly inspired by the commitment of the members of our ‘Kaddish Club’, who vary from Orthodox and semi-regular shulgoers, to moderately Orthodox but not regulars at shul, to less observant. They are all there, every day, their lives almost driven by where they will find their next kaddish. Interstate business travel? Check the minyan schedule in the city they are visiting and co-ordinate travel and meetings around that. Summer holidays with family? Look for destinations where a reliable minyan is not far.
Through my efforts at JBD (Jews of the Melbourne CBD), I view mincha, and associated events like lunchtime lectures and shiurim as an important tool for Jewish engagement. It’s important that Jews be able to express and engage with their Jewishness in the (usually non-Jewish) workplace, and this is just one of many ways to do this.
The members of the ‘Kaddish Club’ should be commended for their deep respect for the previous generation, their desire to fulfil the mitzvah of honouring ones parents even after they have departed from this world, and for the way they set such a fine example for their own children in doing so. This is what Jewish continuity is all about.