The skeptic’s kaddish for the atheist, 26
Children begin by loving their parents; after a time, they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.
~ Oscar Wilde
I am mourning the father I had, and I am mourning the father I didn’t have. He had limitations, and I judged him for it.
Certainly, my expectations were unrealistic. I saw him as smarter, stronger, more dexterous, more capable, more talented, more focused, more sophisticated, more, more, more than me. He was the father who climbed the Caucasus and Pamir Mountains, built railroads in the Arctic, discussed high level mathematics with his teachers and smoked with them after class, studied Hebrew underground in Soviet Moscow, and took the leap of faith necessary to leave everything and everyone he’d ever known behind as he departed alone for Israel in the mid-70’s.
As a child, if there were problems in our relationship, I assumed they were my fault. If he failed at something, I saw success as lying well beyond my own grasp. I adored him.
As I grew up, subconsciously at first, I came to judge him. Why does he care so much about mathematics? Why is he so busy working on his project all the time? Who is he to advise me if he cannot understand me? (and more)
It was just this week, just two days ago, that I finally…
* * *
[My comfort] is in the conversations with friends new and old, in gestures of kindness, in proud, shared heritage, and in the candid embrace of our limitations.
– Me (blog #25)
I was re-reading my last blog post and stopped cold.
The candid embrace of our limitations.
Why did I write that?
Why not my?
Because we are all
human; thus we
My father was
He was approximately twenty-five years old when his hearing was permanently impaired, leaving him entirely deaf in his right ear, with constant background noise reverberating in his damaged left. This was the side effect of being treated for meningitis with streptomycin for ten days in a Soviet hospital.
– Me (blog #19)
This was my father’s most obvious limitation, and its impact upon every facet of his life and its trajectory cannot possibly be overstated, but this was not his greatest limitation. That honor goes to his humanity.
* * *
Rabbi Dalia Marx coauthored a chapter for the book Kaddish with Rabbi Martin S. Cohen, in which she drew my attention to the history of the secular kibbutz movement’s kaddish. She writes (p. 211):
In the 1960s… the founders of the kibbutzim began to pass away in ever-increasing numbers. Moreover, many kibbutz members found the notion of silence in the face of death inadequate and insufficient.
My curiosity whetted, I found the kibbutz kaddish on Kibbutz Ma’anit’s website. Some further research revealed that this version of the kibbutz kaddish was written by Shalom Semid (1909-97, born Semiatitzky), an Israeli poet and member of Kibbutz Negba. I translated the flowery Hebrew with the help of my friend Sagi:
|יִתְגַּדַּל שֵם הָאָדָם||May the man’s name be exalted|
|יִתְעַלֶּה פֹּעַל-חַיָּיו||May his life’s achievement be elevated|
|וְיִתְקַדַּש בְּזִכְרוֹנֵנוּ||And may he be sanctified in our memories|
|עַל צְרוֹר מַעֲלָלָיו בִּימֵי חֶלְדוּ||For the accumulation of his exploits during the days of his life|
|וְעַל הַמַּעַשׂ שֶלֹא הִסְפִּיק לְהַשְלִימוֹ||And for the deed that he did not have time to complete|
|עַל הַחֲלוֹמוֹת שֶנִּטְווּ – וְנָמוֹגוּ||For the dreams that were spun – and dissipated|
|עַל סְגוּלוֹת-יְקַר||For the dear, unique qualities|
|וְאַף עַל חוּלְשוֹת-אֱנוֹש||And even for the human weaknesses|
|שֶנָגוֹזוּ מִבַּעַד לַדּוֹק הָעַרְפִילִי שֶל הַזְּמַן||That disappeared through the hazy veil of time|
|יִפָּקֵד זֵכֶר הָאָדָם||The memory of the man will be preserved|
|הֵד-חַיָּיו כְּזֹהַר הָרָקִיעַ בְּלִבֵּנוּ||The echo of his life like the brightness of the heavens in our hearts|
|וּשְמוֹ לִפְנֵי שֶמֶש יִנּוֹן||And may his name be continued as long as the sun|
|כִּי מוֹתָר הָאָדָם הוּא הַזִּכָּרוֹן||For the preeminence of man is his memory|
|לֹא בַּחֹשֶך שְמוֹ יְכֻסֶּה||His name shall not be concealed in darkness|
|הֶמְשֵך-הַחַיִּים||The continuation of life|
|יַצְמִיחַ פּוּרְקָן לִכְאֵבֵנוּ||Will grow relief for our pain|
|וְנִנְצוֹר אֵת כָּל פִּרְחֵי-חַיָּיו לְיָמִים רַבִּים||And we shall preserve all the blossoms of his life for many days|
|יִתְגַּדַּל שֵם הָאָדָם וְיִשְתַּבַּח בְּזִכְרוֹנֵנוּ||May the man’s name be exalted and praised in our memories|
The power of this kaddish is not simply in that it focuses on the human himself, rather than on God. The power lies in this kaddish’s focus on the human’s humanity… Even for the human weaknesses.
It strikes me that this kibbutz kaddish is more difficult to recite than the traditional orphan’s kaddish, which focuses on a vague, unknowable God. One cannot take this kaddish with any measure of earnestness and recite its words lightly. If I were to recite this kaddish every day at shul, I would be a mess.
* * *
I have spent much energy fighting my demons and battling for self-acceptance on this journey. I have been upset; I have been frustrated; I have been resigned; I have been striving; I have been trying to accept my humanity.
This week I thought, my father was human; he gave me all he could give, but I judged him; I did not appreciate him as he was. And then I forgave him; I whispered aloud to him as I was falling asleep, I forgive you. I accept you. I accept you so that I can accept myself. I too am human, Papa; I also have my limitations.
I am sorry that I judged you.