April 22, 2024
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April 22, 2024
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A Daughter’s Kaddish for Her Father

By Felecia Stern

Today I said the last daily Kaddish for my father, Zukin ben Layzer HaLevi, z”l.

First, I want to thank God for this great privilege, a privilege my father did not have while he had to witness and process the deaths of his parents, sisters and countless others in the ghettos, concentration camps and death marches during the Shoah. At some point during his stay in Auschwitz, my father was responsible for carrying the bodies of those who died in the infirmary to the crematorium. He was 17. Among a million other traumas he suffered, it hurt him so deeply to treat the dead with such disrespect. While on a trip to Auschwitz with him, while standing at the site of a crematorium, he told me of the time a friend came to him and asked him to please let him know when they planned on bringing the body of his father to be burned because this man wanted to be there to witness it. My father refused, explaining to me that he did not want this son to see his father’s body being heaved onto a stack of others.

I am so grateful that I could give my father’s body and soul the respect he deserved.

Second, I want to thank all those who made it possible for me to say Kaddish each day, three times a day, for the last 11 months. Through this ritual I learned more than I have in my 55 years on this earth.

There is nothing special about what I did—thousands of men and women do this each day and have done so for hundreds of years. I was surrounded by too many men and women in my community doing the same exact thing, each struggling with the profound loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, I was also joined by too many people much younger than I, some about the same age my father was when he was in Auschwitz.

Thank you to Rabbi Reuven Fink and Rabbi Chaim Axelrod and all the members of Young Israel of New Rochelle who supported me and created a welcoming space where I could say Kaddish. Thank you to the gabbaim and leyners and those who smiled, held a door or nodded to me each day. Thank you to those who served as my Kaddish guides.

Thank you to the members of our local Bonnie Crest minyan who opened their homes and always set a chair for me. Thank you to the Neuwirths and those in Steve Neuwirth’s (z”l) minyan who, inspired by Steve, created a space of such deep emunah.

Thank you to all those in this world who help make a minyan each day. You are the warriors of our faith and your daily sacrifices are a gift to those of us who only occasionally take advantage of the benefits that daily communal prayer brings.

Thank you to my community of mourners—hearing your voices alongside mine served as a constant reminder that I was not alone and helped me keep my loss and my life in perspective. To the many mourners in my community saying Kaddish on behalf of their parents who were my contemporaries and beloved friends, it both broke my heart to hear your voice in the chorus of others, and also filled me with the beautiful image of your parents smiling from Gan Eden, knowing they had set you on the right path.

Thank you to the many baalai tefilah who stood up to lead davening even though I’m sure there were many mornings/evenings when they, like me, just wanted to sit down with their own thoughts and prayers. Thank you to those who davened so slowly that I was able to lose myself in my own prayers, and thank you to those who davened so efficiently that I was able to get to wherever I needed to be next. And, thank you to those who sang so beautifully that it brought me to tears.

Thank you to those who silently cheered for me when I ran in just in time.

Thank you to those who always came over to the women’s section to collect my tzedakah.

Thank you to those who helped teach me tefillot and halachot that I never knew (although I don’t think I will ever remember the rules of when you skip Tachanun).

Thank you to those who shared words of Torah so that I could learn more and also have the privilege of saying an additional Kaddish.

Thank you to those who covered for me when at the last minute I was not able to be there.

Thank you to those who inched closer to me so they could hear and say Amen to my recitation of the Kaddish.

Thank you to my family/friends who helped secure a minyan for me–whether at Thanksgiving, at my daughter’s white coat ceremony or at Madison Square Garden.

Thank you to my family (and especially my children) for always accommodating my minyan schedule.

Thank you to my husband who spent every single Saturday night at the hospital for the last 11 months so I would not miss minyan.

And finally, thank you to my father who even in death continues to teach me to grow and to work on seeing the good in every situation. And, to always be grateful.

Felecia Stern is a lawyer living in New Rochelle. She just finished her year of avelut for her father, Siegmund Listwa, z”l, a survivor of Auschwitz.

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