Thursday, August 30, 2012

A woman's complaint

The kaddish wars are not over. Yesterday at davening there were two people saying kaddish, myself and a woman. After the service, I spoke to her briefly. She said her father had recently died and had been saying kaddish for him. She appreciated that I made eye contact with her and recited kaddish at a reasonable pace so that we could recite it in unison. She reported that at some other shuls she'd attended, the men recited kaddish so quickly she couldn't keep up. At another shul, the rabbi tried to hush her up when she said kaddish. The rabbi told her she was not allowed to say kaddish. When she asked him where in the Torah it says that a woman may not say kaddish, the rabbi walked away. This left her shocked and upset.

It seems that, in Orthodox shuls, there are three positions about a woman saying kaddish. The most lenient one is that a woman may say kaddish just as a man. In other shuls, a woman can recite kaddish only along with a man. Some shuls which hold this position are more thoughtful of a woman's needs and make sure that, if a woman is saying kaddish, a man whose parent has died will say kaddish as well. At other shuls, if no man is saying kaddish, the woman is out of luck. The strictest position is that a woman is not allowed to say kaddish in shul under any circumstances.

In 1994, the late E.M. Broner wrote a book entitled Mornings and Mourning about her struggles trying to say kaddish for her father in a small Orthodox Shul. (see Since then, there has been a lot of progress in a woman's ability to say kaddish, but, as my conversation reveals, there is still is a way to go.

Frankly, I don't see what the big deal is about. Saying kaddish is not a matter of Jewish law. It is not a commandment. It is a minhag (tradition). Permitting a woman to say kaddish will not undermine the fundamentals of Orthodox Judaism. Here are reasons why kaddish should not be a matter of gender:

   1) by reciting kaddish, the child fulfills the mitzvah of honoring his or her parents, a commandment that extends after the life of the parent;
   2) the purpose of kaddish is to sanctify God's name in public, an end that should not be limited by gender;
   3) kaddish serves to remind the child of his or her loss and provides an anchor to the process of mourning;
   4) by reciting kaddish, the child provides evidence of the merit of his or her parent;
   5) to the extent saying kaddish elevates the soul of the deceased, there is no reason why the gender of the person saying kaddish should matter;
   6) denying a woman the ability to say kaddish may have the effect of pushing women away from traditional Judaism. (See Berkovits, A Daughter's Recitation of Mourner's Kaddish, p. 87).

The above referred to book shows that one of the major reasons why women were not allowed to say kaddish in shul was that since kaddish must be recited in a minyan, and a minyan is made up only of men, there was no physical location in shuls from which a woman could be considered to be in the presence of the minyan. The medieval rabbinic discussions of a woman saying kaddish therefore focused on a daughter saying kaddish in her home at a private minyan (id., at p. 84). Just last year, the former chief Sefardic Rabbi of Israel, Ovadiah Yosef, ruled that a woman who has no brothers may recite kaddish for a parent at a minyan in her home. (See, in many Orthodox shuls now, the women's section can be considered "part of the same domain as the men's section" (id., at p. 80).

It seems to me that the real issue is whether or not women are part of the shul. If "shul" includes women, and women are praying just like men, then a woman should be able to say kaddish like a man. If "shul" is just men, and women are just an appendage of the "shul," the answer is otherwise. I am fortunate the "kaddish wars" don't exist at the two shuls where I daven. But they're not over.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mourning with my iPhone

My iPhone has been a faithful companion during this year of saying kaddish. It has helped me find a minyan when I travelled. (see post The calendar feature has helped me find out exactly when my Kaddish saying will end. (October 10, the day after Simchat Torah.) But mostly it's helped me pass the time when I felt bored during services. When I'm not leading services, I've gotten into the habit of taking out my phone during the repetition of the Amidah or if the Rabbi's D'var Torah doesn't interest me. I check my email and "to do  list" send messages to others about things that pop into my mind, look up things on the Internet, check my Facebook page or note topics that I'd like to blog about. (I first wrote about this at

I feel a bit guilty about this. I'm supposed to be paying attention and answering "amen" after each blessing. I'm also supposed to give my full attention to the rabbi as an element of "k'vod ha'rav," giving honor to the Rabbi as an authority.

Still, I spend a lot of time in shul to pray and say kaddish. Each day I spend more or less about an hour and fifteen minutes. Shacharit, the morning prayer, usually last about 35 to 45 minutes, depending on whether the Torah is read (Mondays, Thursdays and special days such as Rosh Chodesh). The combined afternoon and evening services usually takes about 30 to 35 minutes. That's a lot of time to spend in one place. After home and work, there is no place I spend as much time in as shul. It's difficult for me not to have my mind wander on other things going on in my life.

I can justify my behavior on several scores. First, I'm not the only one doing it. (Okay, that's not a good reason, but still.) I see lots of people using their phones during shul. Some of them have downloaded the prayer service and are using it for that purpose. (I have as well, though I prefer to use a prayer book.) But I think most are "goofing off" like I am. Beeps and chimes and other tones are a fairly regular occurrence at shul these days. At concerts, plays and operas, they remind people to turn off their phones before the performance begins. No one tells shul-goers to do this before praying.

Second, I consider myself to be multi-tasking. I'm a busy person. Shul takes up a lot of my time. I have things I need to take care of. I can still answer "amen" and reply to an email. True, my kavanna (intention toward the prayers) may be low, but I'm not disrupting others and I'm still participating.

The one thing that does bother me is when other people's phones go off in the middle of the service. Sometimes the phone continues to ring four or five times. Usually people don't answer the phone. I try to remember to turn the sound on my phone off before the service. Sometimes I forget and then remember in the middle of davening (praying) in which case I take out my phone and turn off the sound.

Last week, however, my phone rang at the worst possible time--as I was saying kaddish. It was embarrassing. My son was calling about something. I've reminded my family members not to call during the early evening hours when I'm in shul. He forgot. I quickly turned off the phone.

Lately I've been thinking that I should study some Torah during the service instead of engaging in "bittul torah" (wasting time on unimportant non-Torah related matters). I've started learning some Mishnaot. But I still make sure I don't leave to shul without my phone.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Visit to the cemetery

I flew to California a few days ago to visit my father. It still feels strange to say "my father" rather than "my parents." But I'm getting more used to it. I still say that I'm staying in "my parents' home." We still refer to my mother's office and her computer and all her possessions as belonging to her. For as long as my father continues to live in that house, it will be "my parents' house."  My father has given away much of her clothes and jewelry, but everything else, the pots and pans, the spices, the plastic bags are where she left them and we are careful to adhere to her impeccable organization.

Yesterday my father and I drove to the cemetery. It was my second visit there since the burial. What can be said about visits to your parent's grave site? Not much. That's the reason I believe that people recite psalms, leave rocks on the gravestone and engage in other rituals. (I recited psalms 23, 25 and 121 before we left.) There simply is not that much to say. Or think. My mother's body lays under the ground. Grass has already grown on top of the dirt. It can be said she is there in that space, but it cannot be said she is only there. It's too depressing a thought, and it's not true, at least I don't feel and can't admit it is.

The time to think about your parent's life is not at a cemetery. It's at family gatherings and with people who knew and loved her. The cemetery renders you numb and dumb. Too much death all around.

My father and I had a specific task, to look at other gravestones to help us decide how my mother's should look. We looked at the iconography, the texts, how names and dates were presented, the general layout. I took photos with my iPhone. We came home and discussed what we'd seen, liked and not liked. We spoke to my brother. We reached agreement on most matters and hope to resolve the final text soon so that the stone can be prepared for the first Yahrzeit.

There is a custom of washing one's hands upon leaving the cemetery. To me, the reason is to affirm that the living are still living and not tainted with the impurity of death. Later in the day I attended a Yoga class to reaffirm my commitment to life.

No one said dealing with the death of a parent would be easy. Almost a year later, it hasn't really gotten much easier.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Turning off the music

Do the halachic (Jewish legal) restrictions on a mourner reduce the mourner's joy or does the state of mourning naturally cause the mourner to lessen his or her joy?

There are various restrictions that accompany the year of mourning for a parent. You are not supposed to wear new clothing. You are not supposed to attend celebrations. And you are not supposed to attend performances of live music. Would mourners naturally refrain from these activities as inconsistent with their mental state or would we otherwise engage in these activities but for Jewish law?

While it's a bit of each, to me the impress of halacha (Jewish law) goes further than a mourner would otherwise act. Maybe during the first few months I wouldn't have thought of going out and having a good time, but I'm feeling more ready to do so now. But I understand the halacha. These restrictions give shape a defined time period of mourning. They say to the mourner: "you may want to go back to your normal life, but not so fast. Don't forget that your parent died. Don't forget that something profound happened to you that has forever changed your life." Besides, even with these restrictions, I'm still pretty much living my life the way I usually do. Sure I'm giving up a few pleasures, but I can live without wearing new clothes and celebrating for a year.

The music issue is more complicated though. I've attended hundreds of live music performances in my life and they've been a source of profound pleasure. Music has taken me to places deep within my psyche. And New York is great place to hear live music. Summer in New York is saturated with free shows. All of which I've missed.

Not only have I not gone to any concerts, I've taken the matter even further than halacha requires. In the first month of mourning (Shloshim), I listened to no music at all. Even when I went to the gym and worked out, I watched news shows instead of listening to my iPod. (Watching CNN while working out was indeed painful.) Since then, I've severely reduced my listening to music for pleasure. If someone around me is listening, I will too. I'll turn on the radio for brief periods. And I listen to my iPod at the gym. But the kind of listening I did before my mother died, taking walks while listening to music, watching movies of concerts, listening intently to recordings of live music--I've given that up for now. I don't want to get too carried away by a musical experience. I don't want to be moved too far from my more serious, sober state.

I've thought that perhaps having a peak musical experience could be cathartic, perhaps even beneficial to me, deepening my appreciation for what I'm going through. It's possible. But I've put that aside for a year. I have, though, bought tickets to two concerts for after the kaddish year. I can't wait to go.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Last kaddish in Israel

My last kaddish in Israel was, appropriately, at the Ben Gurion airport. Our flight didn't leave until 10:30 a.m., so I thought I might be able to daven at the 6:30 minyan near my cousin's home which ends promptly at 7:00, then get a sherut (taxi service) to the airport at 7:15. I asked the taxi service for a 7:15 pickup to which they responded (in Hebrew), "be ready by 6:45." I said "7:15," they replied, "6:45." 6:45 it was.

There is a synagogue at the Ben Gurion airport which you can find after passing through security and passport control. I got there around 9:00 a.m. People were davening, but individually, not in a minyan. That wasn't going to help me say kaddish. Just then, a group of American teens came in. Turns out they were returning home from one of the Orthodox summer tours in Israel. I joined their minyan which proceeded slowly. I had the feeling most of these teens had stayed up all night celebrating their last day in Israel. Many of them dozed. During the Torah reading, I asked the group leader, who was doing his best to infuse the prayer service with kavanna (proper intention) if I could take over leading the davening after the Torah reading. I don't think these teens were expected a mourner in their midst. Still, I led the prayers to their conclusion with the kaddishes that conclude the service.

As I've written earlier, there are kaddishes and then there are kaddishes. ( These were not the normal kaddishes, said without much feeling or thought. With these kaddishes, I was saying goodbye to Israel, and more, to some part of my mother, some aspect of her whose spirit resides in Israel. For the first time in months, I felt some connection with her, a connection whose path is signaled by tears.

The gap between what was in my mind and the minds of these teens could not have been wider. No matter. They were my agents in sanctifying the spirit of my mother.

Through the miracle of air travel, I returned home the same afternoon and went to my local shul to pray the afternoon and evening services. Like normal.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A wedding and my "job"

As a mourner, I'm not supposed to have much fun. In his book The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Maurice Lamm writes:

"The observance that most affects the daily life of the mourner during the 12-month period is the complete abstention from parties and festivities, both public and private. Participation in these gatherings is simply not consonant with the depression and contrition that the mourner experiences. It borders on the absurd for the mourner to dance gleefully while his parent lies dead in a fresh grave" (p. 175).
Strong words, which I'm not sure I fully agree with. The observance that most affects my daily life is going to shul and saying kaddish. I'm not really a party-goer anyway and, as for celebrations, how many do I get invited to these days? Not many. And not every "gleeful dance" is disrespectful to the state of mourning. Perhaps dancing and having fun would be therapeutic and help to put mourning in a new and more meaningful perspective.

What kind of fun am I supposed to avoid? My understanding is that there are two kinds: 1) going to hear live music and 2) attending festive occasions such as weddings. So far this kaddish year, I have done neither. Not that I've had many such occasions, though I did use my mourning as an excuse to get out of attending the synagogue's annual dinner, which I was ambivalent about attending in any event.

A few months ago, I was invited to the wedding of my cousin's son in Israel. As I was planning a trip to Israel this summer, it made sense to arrange my trip so I could attend. But how could I go to a wedding? Thankfully, the same rabbis who limited my joy created a loophole so I could attend this joyous occasion.  This loophole is called "the job", or, in Hebrew "hatafkid." As Lamm writes, a mourner can attend a wedding so long as he is performing "some useful function" (p. 182).

I've heard of cases where mourners attended many weddings or other joyous occasions under the guise of doing a "job." My niece, who was 12 when her mother tragically died, attended dozens of bar and bat mitzvah celebrations that year using the "job" rationale.

My cousin obliged me, assigning me some "useful functions." I helped set tables, took some pictures, brought out some props for a skit.

Perhaps because I am not a carefree person in general, the idea of reducing joy during this kaddish year makes sense to me. I'm not sure I'd be disrespecting my mother's memory by attending joyous occasions, but it feels right not to overdo it in the joy department. I thoroughly enjoyed the wedding, and my cousin mentioned that, through my own presence, she felt my mother's presence. I had a good time, not in the sense of reckless abandon, but mainly by being witness to the occasion of my cousin's joy. That, I think, was my true "job."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Missed kaddish due to impatience

I'm back from Israel, but I'm not finished reflecting on my time there. As usual, the first few days back leave me with a feeling of dislocation, as if I am nowhere, neither here nor there. My feelings for the people and country as well as my experiences there linger in my consciousness. My prayers, indeed all my actions, are not quite "with it" yet.

I only missed one kaddish in the nearly two weeks I was in Israel. There are lots of shuls, especially in Jerusalem, so finding one nearby wasn't difficult. Even when I went out to eat, I found one a few minutes away to pray Mincha and Ma'ariv. My last day I went to a wedding (more about that in a future post) where I wasn't going to be able to daven Mincha. So I davened before hand at a well-known Jerusalem institution known as "Shitblach." This unpreposesing building in the Katamon section of Jerusalem offers minyanim (prayer services) on a virtual around the clock basis. It's really a minyan factory. As you enter, a guy directs you into one of several rooms. When a minyan (quorum of 10 men) has been reached, you're ready to go.  At one point, an argument ensued about who should go to which room, apparently because someone in the other room felt slighted that people had been directed to the room where I was. Shiblach is not the place to pray your heart out, but if you need to say kaddish and fulfill your obligation to pray three times a day, it can't be beat.

The service I missed was due to the custom in Israel, which I found quite annoying, of waiting about 20 minutes between the end on Mincha (the afternoon service) and the beginning of Ma'ariv (the evening service). It was explained to me that Ma'ariv could not be prayed earlier. (I'm not sure if this had to do with the time for praying Ma'ariv or for reciting the Shma.) But why, then, do shuls in the U.S. routinely daven Ma'ariv right after Mincha? Something doesn't add up here. In my cynical moments, I thought that the time gap between Mincha and Ma'ariv was to give the rabbi, who works for and is paid by the government, not by the particular synogogue, a chance to do something to prove his worth.

In some shuls, no rabbi was even present to speak so people just congregated outside the shul, checking their email, making phone calls, shmoozing or just sitting there waiting for the evening service to begin. I'd been invited to eat at my aunt and uncle's home, and didn't want to make them wait any longer, so I just skipped Ma'ariv and walked over there. I did not have the patience to keep them or myself waiting. Plus I was hungry. These were plenty good enough reasons for me to miss kaddish.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Differences between prayers in Israel and the States

A week ago, I wrote about differences between shuls in Israel and the States. Here, I will write about some differences in the prayer service. (I am only comparing differences using Nusach Ashkenaz. There are even more differences when comparing different nusachim.)

The major difference is that minyans in Israel say Birkat Cohanim every day. This means that the Cohanim (those who are Cohens, i.e., descendants of the priestly class) ascend to the front of the Ark, cover themselves in a tallit and recite the blessings according to the Torah in Numbers 6:24-26.  In the States, the Cohanim do this only on Festivals. On all other days, the prayer leader recites the blessings as an insert to the Shemona Esray. As I lead prayers in Israel, the sight of men going up to the Ark reminded me that my job was prompt them with the words of the blessing rather than to recite it for the community.

There are also slight differences in the wording of the Shemona Esray that kept me on my toes.  Here are a list of the differences:

Blessing Number        In Israel                                     In the States
           2                      מוריד הטל (dew) recited            omitted
           9                      ושבענו מטובושךָ                           ושבענו מטובה
           13                    וכל איבי עמךָ                                   וכל איביךָ

The version recited in Israel makes more sense to me. I don't understand why dew is not mentioned outside Israel, and I do so in my personal prayer though not when I am leading prayers in the States because I'm following the customs of the place where I'm praying. The mention of dew recognizes that precipitation continues even after the rainy season.

The changes in blessings 9 and 13 are similar in nature. In the former blessing in Israel, we say that God blesses the face of the earth and that we are satisfied from "its, i.e., the earth's goodness." Outside of Israel, we say we are satisfied from "your, i.e., God's goodness." But we are already talking about the earth, so the Israeli version makes more linguistic sense to me. It is also more concrete and emphasizes our relationship to actual land.

Blessing number 13 was added to the prayer, resulting in the Shemona Esray, which means 18, having 19 blessings. (The name of the prayer was apparently so well established that it remained even after the addition of a 19th blessing.)  It deals with the still relevant topic of the hope that God will bring about the destruction, or at least the humbling, of the Jewish People's enemies.   The Israeli version speaks of  the enemies of "your nation." The version recited outside of Israel refers to "your, i.e., God's enemies." Once again, the Israeli version is more satisfying because the main issue is not whether those who seek our destruction are God's enemies but whether they are our own enemies. Again, the Israeli version is more concrete as it brings the focus onto the people rather than to God.

I feel privileged to have merited to be in Israel during my kaddish year and to have led the prayer service in the manner of Jews who live in Israel.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Yekkes and Sefardim

I daven at two shuls back home. One of the shuls has a relaxed tone. The other has lots of traditions that it adheres to punctiliously. For example, they always begin davening exactly "on time," that is, if Shacharit is scheduled to begin at 6:45, they begin exactly at that time. They have a digital clock that keeps exact time. Someone watches the clock and when it indicates the scheduled time, the Gabbai directs the prayer leader to begin. They also have other minhagim (traditions). For instance, the prayer leader has to wear a jacket, or, if he has no jacket, a tallit. A man who has Yartzeit says kaddish by himself after Aleynu during Shacharit and Ma'ariv (although someone in Shloshim--30 days after burial, also says this kaddish).

This shul has been identified as having a "Yekke" outlook. A Yekke is a person from German speaking lands who strictly adhere to certain traditions. (See

The above cited Wikipedia page cites a well-known story of a Yekke that reflects this attitude of punctiliousness: "A Yekke says to his wife on the evening of 4 December, 'I'll be home from synagogue services a little late tonight.' Explanation: at the evening prayer on the 4th of December, the words 'Tal U'matar' (dew and rain) are added to the prayers for the upcoming winter season. The addition of these two words causes the Yekke to be 'late' coming back home."

I've grown to appreciate the "Yekke" mentality. You know when the prayer service is going to start. You can calculate almost to the minute when it's going to end. For people who need a sense of order and regularity, this shul works perfectly for them.

I have not found this "Yekkeish" outlook at shuls in Israel. For instance, all the shuls I've prayed at (except one) have analog clocks. Also, there is no Gabbai who makes sure that the prayers start exactly on time. In addition, the shul dress code is very relaxed here. Back home at the Yekke shul, a man who is wearing sandals is not allowed to daven from the Amud (lead prayers). Here, no one seems to care what kind of footwear one is wearing. Back home, some people wear suits and ties to shul, even during the week. In Israel, I have only seen a very few wearing ties, and only on Shabbat, and the ties are often loosely hung around the neck.

On my first day in Israel, I had the complete opposite experience at the shul of Sefardim, Jews from Arab countries. (I wrote about this shul in an earlier post, see According to the schedule which I checked after the morning service, Mincha was scheduled for 7:20. But when I showed up at this time, it had been moved to 7:00 and so I missed it. Then Ma'ariv, the evening service, which was scheduled for 8:00, did not take place until 8:50 because there was a ceremony for the installation of a new Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). They had taken out all the Torah Scrolls, there was music and speeches accompanying their entrance into the shul, and then bidding to see who would get the honor of being the person to put the new Torah into the Ark. (The winning bid was 360 shekels, about 90 dollars.) I hung around hoping the evening service would finally get underway, though I had thoughts of leaving. Here I was, used to services starting on time, waiting and waiting just to pray a 10 minute service and say kaddish.

One of the things that makes Israel such an interesting and exciting place is its diversity. It's a country made up of Jews from so many places and backgrounds. This diversity has resulted in a variety of shul traditions. The Jewish community in New York is much more homogeneous. Davening in shul on a regular basis in Israel has been a learning experience. As usual as my time in Israel nears its end, I'm filled with mixed emotions, looking forward to being back home in my familiar surroundings and sadness to leave this land and its people whose emotional hold on me only seems to grow each time I'm here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Becoming an adult Jew

I'm in Tel Aviv for a few days and the first thing I thought about was where the nearest shul was. Fortunately, even in this so-called godless city, there are more than enough shuls, and, I might add, kosher dining places, nearby. Yesterday I went to a shul for the evening services around the corner from where I'm staying. It turned out that, because of "shiputzim" (repairs), there were no morning services. (The building was built in 1931 we were told.) I asked someone about finding another shul. Before answering, he wanted to know what nusach (style of prayer) I used, as this would determine which shul I'd feel more at home in. He told us of a Nusach Ashkenaz shul nearby, and while I couldn't quite follow his directions ("yashar, yashar", i.e., "straight, straight"), through Google I confirmed its exact location.

This morning I found it. Once again, after I said the first kaddish, a man approach me and asked me if I wanted to daven from the Amud (lead prayers). My policy is not to volunteer to lead prayers, but not to refuse, or, phrased in the positive, to accept the honor, when asked. And so once again I led prayers in an unfamiliar place.

There's something about the mourning process that makes you feel grown up. First, you have to get up early every morning--no sleeping in, even when your on vacation. This morning I awoke at 6:15 to make sure I got to the 7:00 minyan on time. I've always associated getting up early with being a responsible adult. Second, you have to start your day doing something serious, going to synagogue.

Third, I now feel that I can go to any shul and lead the prayers. The prayer book for the prayer leader I used today did not have markings to indicate where the prayer leader jumps in at the various points during the service. But by now I've done it so many times I can figure it out. I'm now able to represent the community, any community (at least if it uses Nusach Ashkenaz) in prayer. I know the service well enough now to adjust to differences in the service than what I'm used to. (They add Morid Ha'tal in the Amidah and Ayn Kelohaynu and Borchu at the end.)

In this respect, the mourning process is like a course in accepting communal responsibility. I've learned a lot, and I'm getting closer to graduating.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Leading prayers at shul in Israel

Two days ago, I showed up at the 7:00 a.m. minyan at the shul near where I'm staying in Jerusalem.  I was the only one saying the first kaddishes. A man then approached me and asked (in Hebrew) whether I wanted to daven from the Amud (lead prayers). My policy is to say yes when asked unless I'm not feeling well. And so I led the prayers in a shul where I had never been in my life, didn't know a soul, used a different prayer book than I'm used to, and had some differences in the prayers.  (Extra kaddishes and the Priestly Blessing).

As I began, I felt nervous.  It was strange to lead prayers in an unfamiliar setting.  Also, while my Hebrew is fairly good, it is not my first language (though many others are former Americans or Brits in that synagogue), so I felt especially self-conscious about mispronouncing or stumbling over words. (see http://mykaddishyear.blogspot/2012/07/mistakes-during-prayer.html) With this mindset, I began saying the prayers so fast that someone motioned for me to slow down. Afterwards, he told me that this was a "pensioner" minyan, meaning a minyan made up of mostly retired people who are not in a hurry to get to work. The 6:30 minyan at the same shul prays so fast that they are done by 7:00.

Yesterday I led prayers again from start to finish, making only one mistake. (I said a Borchu at the end which, I found out later, is not done on Mondays and Thursdays). Today also went well. The newness of the experience has had an emotional impact on me.  I am trying to figure out why, and it's not easy to put into words. I think part of it has to do with my mother's strong connection to Israel. She lived here, in south Tel Aviv, for a few years as a child. In her later years, she came here yearly to see family and in her work helping Israeli victims of terror.  By leading prayers and saying kaddish for her in Israel, I am acknowledging her relationship to Israel. Some part of her is here, and, through my prayers here, I am connecting to that part. Also, through publicly mourning my mother in Israel, I am acknowledging my own connection to this land.

There is a traditional formula that is said to a mourner: "May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." During my stay in Jerusalem, this saying can explicitly be fulfilled. My Rabbi once said that the word for God in this formula, "Hamakom," is unusual, as it literally means "the place." Perhaps as well, I needed to mourn for my mother in this place, in Israel, a place that meant so much to her, and to me.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Davening and kaddish in Israel

Any time you travel, even to a place you've been before, you have to adjust to new ways.  I've been to shul in Israel before, but never as a regular everyday goer. Every day I experience more differences than what I'm used to back home.  Here are some of them as I, so to speak, take my mourning on the road:

1) At the shul closest to where I'm staying, which uses Nusach Ashkenaz like my shuls back home, they start with Rabbi Yishmael Omer, add a vidui (confession of sins) before Tachanun, say Ayn Kelohanu and then Kaddish D'rabbanan at the end, followed by another Borchu (except, I learned today, on Monday and Thursday when the Torah is read), then a short drash and then yet another Kaddish D'rabbanan.

2) The morning Shacharit services tend to start earlier. At the local shul, there are two minyanim (services), one at 6:30 and the at 7:00 a.m. Where I first stayed when I got to Israel, the two morning services where at 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. At home, I can attend either 7:45 or 8:00 a.m. weekday morning minyan.

3) There doesn't seem to be any such thing as a Mincha/Ma'ariv service where one follows immediately or close to the other. For example, Mincha services are now starting at 7:20, goes to about 7:40, but then the evening service does not begin until 7:58, giving the Rabbi a long time to speak. This makes saying kaddish in the afternoon and evening even more time consuming.

4) The Rabbis here are appointed by the government and don't always represent the hashkafa (religious outlook) of the congregants. I've noticed that the Rabbis dress more conservatively and seem more religiously stringent than the congregants. Also, their talks, in Hebrew, to the extent I've followed them, are not very interesting.

5) The davening and kaddish saying is faster and I have to say it as fast as I can to keep up with the others.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A different kind of kaddish

I davened at the six o'clock minyan (prayer service) this past Tuesday. My son and I then flew to Israel nonstop. On the plane groups of men were forming minyans (prayer quorums) to pray Mincha (the afternoon service) and Ma'ariv (the evening service). I was able to join a group in the front of the plane for Ma'ariv. No one said kaddish, so when I announced I needed to, they said to go ahead.

I landed in Israel at four in the morning the next day. By 6 a.m. I was at a Bet Knesset (synagogue) in a town called Re'ut where one of my cousins lives. Because of the time difference between New York and Israel, I attended two 6 a.m. minyans within a span of 17 hours.

As with most prayer services in the United States, the services I attend in New York use Nusach Ashkenaz. Nusach Ashkenaz refers to the form of prayer used by most Jews from Eastern Europe. But there are two other major nusachim (forms of prayer). One is called Nusach Sfard, which is similar to Nusach Ashkenaz but with slight changes to the liturgy. The other is called Nusach Adot Ha'mizrach. This nusach is used by Jews from Arab countries.

The services I attended in Re'ut used Nusach Adot Ha'mizrach. It is not like Nusach Ashkenaz at all. The order of the prayers are somewhat changed, especially in the morning service. The prayer leader recited the entire service out loud. There are extra prayers, especially at the end. And there are substantial differences in the wording of the kaddish.

The combination of my jet lag, sense of dislocation and change of nusach rendered me completely at sea during the service. I couldn't even figure out who the prayer leader was for a while. I spent considerable energy just trying to figure out when the kaddishes were coming and trying to adjust to the new wording. No one paid notice of me or tried to help me out. My sense of comfort in shul, acquired from nearly nine months davening in the same kind of prayer service, was utterly upended.

There is much to gain from experiencing new ways of doing things and going outside one's comfort zone. But that intellectual knowledge didn't help me much that morning.

Journey to Israel

Saying kaddish is not the equivalent of mourning.  It is an aspect of mourning, but it does not encompass the whole of it. Often times, kaddish is recited by rote. It's meaning is lost by reason of its frequency and repetitiveness.  In addition to the daily kaddishes, I have some concrete goals I'd like to accomplish during this kaddish year.

Even before my mother died, I began thinking of things I wanted to do in response to her death. One of those things was to spend time in Israel. I have a lot of family in Israel, including my aunt, my mother's surviving older sister. (A third sister, the oldest, died over 40 years ago of cancer.) Another goal, developed in my mind shortly after her death, is to put together some kind of publication of her writings that encapsulates her ideas on life and therapy. (See http://mykaddishyear.blogspot/2012/07/rememberence-project.html)

Two days ago I arrived in Israel. In addition to enjoying myself, visiting sites, shopping and attending my cousin's son's wedding (more about that in a future post), I want to spend time with my relatives who knew my mother. I need to be acknowledged in my new status as a motherless child by my cousins who lost their aunt. I hope to come back home with more stories about my mother, perhaps some more pictures, and to share my mourning with family here who loved her.

It's not easy to talk about loss. It's one of the most difficult topics to discuss. We'd rather talk about happier or more meaningless things. On this journey to Israel, I will at least try.