Sunday, May 20, 2012

A kaddish war story

The custom when a parent dies is to say kaddish for a year (actually 11 Jewish months plus a day).  Of course, the mourner has to live his or her life during that period, which means work and travel.  It follows that while most kaddishes are recited in one's local synagogue, some will be said "on the road."  Finding a minyan (quorum) in an unfamiliar place is never without its complications.  This leads to the idea of the kaddish "war story."

I've noticed that men like to recount their kaddish war stories.  These are the occasions when they made extraordinary effort to find a minyan to say kaddish.  It might involve rounding up Jews at a hotel.  Or rushing to a shul near an airport and then rushing back to catch a flight.  An excellent example of a war story can be found at  There is, dare I say, a macho element to these stories, as if men are saying, "look what I did to say kaddish, can you top that?"

With that by way of introduction, here is my war story from last Thursday.  I needed to pick up my daughter from college in Middletown, Connecticut on Thursday evening.  I figured that the closest minyan to her college would be in New Haven.  I'd contacted a shul there; they said that minyan began at 7:00 p.m. The plan was to get there, daven, and then proceed to my daughter's college.  By the time I left work and got on the road, it was close to 5:00.  Then I hit terrible traffic (not surprisingly) in Westchester.  I figured I probably wouldn't make it to New Haven in time, so I got off the highway in White Plains, pulled over, took out my trusty iphone, and went on to find a closer minyan.  After some research and a few phone calls, I learned that the only certain minyan was in Stamford, Connecticut, at 7:45, not even halfway to Middletown.  I put the shul's address in my GPS and proceeded on my way.  More terrible traffic on I-95 got me into Stamford at 6:45.  Seeing that the shul was only a few minutes from downtown, I figured I had some time to walk around and explore the city.  During my walk, I noticed a 5K race had began at 7:00.  People were in a festive mood on this beautiful spring day as they watched the race.

I returned to my car at 7:20, figuring it would only take 10-15 minutes at most to get to the shul.  But when I went to turn on the street my GPS instructed me to turn on,  it was blocked by a police car.  They'd closed it for the runners.  So I detoured around, crawling along with other aggravated drivers.  After numerous turns, and more blocked off streets, I got to a small residential street.  By then it was already 7:40. Two more turns to go, 1000 meters, my GPS told me.  But the next turn was blocked off as well.  At that point, I decided to abandon ship. I parked and started running toward the shul.  A cop told me it was just up the hill.  As I ran, some kids were handing out water.  Turns out I was on the race course, and they thought I was part of the race.  Declining the offer, I continued up the hill, getting to the shul at exactly 7:45. But I'd been misinformed: shul didn't start till 7:55, so I relaxed and washed up.  I shmoozed with a gentleman from Queens who said he was there saying kaddish for his mother.  After davening, I asked him for a ride back to my car.  We shook hands in solidarity of our mutual mourning.  By this time the race had ended.  I drove to pick up my daughter.

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