The Last Kaddish

I have been looking forward to Nov. 4 all year. It’s been circled on my calendar since last December and I thought the day would never come. It’s the day I stop saying Kaddish for my father. Don’t get me wrong; the 10-second prayer doesn’t bother me. But making it to services three times each day, running out of courtrooms and client meetings, unable to take any vacations in minyanically-challenged hot spots, reorganizing my daily schedule around 4:00 p.m. afternoon services, and crawling out of bed with a 10′ degree fever eventually took their toll. I know there are people, better than I, who attend daily services year-round, without any Kaddish obligations. While I envy their commitment, trust me, it is much harder than it looks. Maybe it’s the pressure of knowing that you have to say Kaddish zealously or your father won’t make it into heaven. I know that’s probably not accurate, but the mind of a mourner is often clouded with guilt and doubt.

Sometimes I enjoyed the challenge and met it with ad-hoc minyans in front of Cinderella’s castle, Section 10 of Yankee Stadium, a park in midtown Manhattan, the steps in front of an Atlanta courthouse, the top of Masada, and the new prayer area in Giants Stadium. (Although, ironically, on the advice of my rabbi and pilot, I skipped the obtrusive services in the galley of my daylong flight to Israel).

And what about the guy — every synagogue has one — who is the self-appointed Kaddish leader, artfully marshalling the competing mourners by raising his voice above the others and, through sheer brute force, commanding their allegiance to his pace and tone? I’ll miss that guy.

Wait a minute. Do I sound wistful and nostalgic? I am. And here’s the kicker: Notwithstanding the bright red circle on my calendar, I don’t want it to end. I am dreading Nov. 4. It’s almost like losing my father all over again. The last time I prayed and didn’t have to say Kaddish, he was alive. Kaddish is my last direct link to him. Sure, my open wounds have healed and my public grief has certainly been tempered by time. My focus has naturally turned to raising my own children, including the one formed in the wake of my father’s death. But, thanks in part to Kaddish, not a day has passed since his death that I have not thought about him. Three times each day for the last 11 months, I have been forced to focus on his absence and my loss. I’d like to think it would have happened anyway, but I would be fooling myself. I even thought about him on my flight to Israel because I blatantly did not say Kaddish. With the coming anniversary of his death, all vestiges of the formal grieving process are over. The “compelled” mourning that I once derided as artificial and meaningless, and the cold and foreign Kaddish with its tenuous historical link to death and mourning, proved more comforting and valuable than these words, or any words, could possibly describe.

When I started this process, I considered letting my kids off the hook when my time comes. There is a school of thought that says that a parent can discharge his or her children’s obligation to say Kaddish. At the time, it seemed like I would be doing them a favor. After having gone through it, however, I have come to understand that Kaddish (like most of the Jewish laws and customs relating to mourning) is a gift, an opportunity to maintain a connection to the deceased long after time would ordinarily fight off the memories. Sure, now I can go on vacation without worrying about saying Kaddish, but that means it’s going to be a vacation without my father.

But the same people who told me to say Kaddish for the year (actually 11 months) are telling me to stop saying it now. They seem to know what they are doing. But I am going to miss it, not nearly as much as I miss my father, but, in a way, they are one and the same. Thinking about him, drawing his lessons, recalling his wit, and passing his extraordinary wisdom down the line are now indoctrinated into my daily existence and are part of my normal routine. Thanks to Kaddish, it will extend long beyond Nov. 4.

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About aweisbrot

Ari is a partner in the Litigation Department of an historic and renowned law firm located in New York. He has been featured on CBS Radio’s Wall Street Journal Report, quoted in legal and non-legal periodicals, and has been recognized as a “SuperLawyer” in New Jersey and a "Top Ten Lawyer to Watch" in New York. Mr. Weisbrot is a true “client’s lawyer,” representing a diverse range of clients from among the largest retailers in the United States to smaller local businesses to religious and charitable organizations. Ari was appointed by Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey to a three-year term of service on the Committee on Character. The Committee determines the fitness to practice law of each candidate for admission to the Bar of the State. Mr. Weisbrot also continues to serve on the District Ethics Committee (IIB - Bergen County), which operates under the auspices of the New Jersey State Office of Attorney Ethics. Mr. Weisbrot has been awarded an 'AV' rating for his professionalism and the quality of his legal work from Martindale-Hubbell, the premier directory of legal professionals, and has been selected by his peers as a Super Lawyer. In addition, Mr. Weisbrot has written several articles on commercial litigation, which have been published in the New Jersey Law Journal and the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel. A Former New York City prosecutor, Mr. Weisbrot is a graduate of Fordham University School of Law, where he was a member of the Urban Law Journal and a featured columnist in the Law School newspaper
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One Response to The Last Kaddish

  1. Arye Sachs says:

    Ari.
    Sorry for the loss of your father. You have pointed out a few angles of Jewish morning that most people do not think about.
    I just wanted to add: the morning time on parents is a year while on siblings, spouse and own children it is only 30 days. The reason is that the halacha writing rabbis did not find it necessary to impose a morning on siblings, spouse and own children because they are much closer to us and by nature we will not forget about them…parents on the other hands are being taken for granted by us for all they do for us and we never think of what we can do for them. The halacha writing rabbis knew that we will forget our parents in a few months and therefore imposed the full year. Just look at the thousands and thousands of Old Jewish parents sitting alone / lonely (sure – many activities..Many other “Alter Kakers” but alone..) While their Doctors, Lawyers and Accountants children live in mansions with their family and they have no time and desire to bring their parents to live with them. I have many Italian, Sicilian and Greek friends who have their old parents moved in with them when they couldn’t take care of themselves anymore (with all that is involved) but not one Jewish friend in the US (I do have a few in Israel who did) who made this (what the Jewish children consider) sacrifice. There is an old French story about a man who had sent his mother for death (long story) and when the guillotine came down her head missed the bucket and hit his leg, the decapitated head said to him – sorry son, I didn’t mean to hurt you leg… parents love.
    I pray to God that he will give my father many more years on this earth, not just for his benefit… but also for mine as I know I will not be as good as you have been with your commitment. We are very close and at one time on a few drinks at a decent pole dancing club (yes… we are that close) I almost asked him to let me off the hook but I didn’t…. As for my children my attitude is simple. Their Kadish will not be the factor for where my soul will reside. It is my own responsibility in this world to determine it. If they want to follow it for a religious reason or to make them feel good about themselves than fine – but I do not want them to go out of their way for it because if I didn’t make a mark on their life than one years will not make a difference (they may event resent me for making them follow this kadish thing…) but if I did indeed leave a mark on their life and personality than they will remember me for the rest of their life as I remember my grandparents.

    Arye Sachs
    Chief Fun Officer
    http://www.jetangel.com
    http://www.RegulateThem.com

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