May 28, 2024
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Marking the End of Kaddish

Today marks the last day I am saying kaddish. These nine words are the same ones that I wrote for The Jewish Link about my in-laws on August 30 of last year. That same day my mother was buried, as she passed away on August 28, the same Hebrew date as my father who passed away in 1987.

I started saying kaddish for my father-in-law on September 14, 2017 and then three short weeks later I was saying kaddish for both my mother-in-law and father-in-law. I continued saying kaddish until August 24. Just four short days later was my father’s 32nd yahrzeit; after saying kaddish for him at Maariv I went to see my mother, and she passed away that same night. I have calculated that I have said kaddish at least 4800 times during these 96 weeks. Now that it’s over, how do I feel? As I said in my previous article these thoughts are my thoughts and not meant as a critique or advice to anyone, but a reflection on what I am thinking. Mourning is and needs to be a personal experience. No one can or should tell anyone else how to feel or how to mourn. kaddish is just one small part of it.

I feel strange. This is how someone recently described how it will feel the first day I am no longer saying kaddish, and they are correct. It will feel strange not to say kaddish after having done so for 96 weeks. I am still leading the services and saying the same words I said while saying the mourners kaddish, I am just not saying those words in the same way that I did before. I have wondered how that makes sense. Words are, well, just words; it’s all about when you say them and what you have in your mind and heart when you say them. A person who I grew closer to over the year, through the bond of both of us saying kaddish and both of us saying kaddish for much longer than the normal 11 months, said to me that “[he closes his] eyes when saying kaddish and concentrates on remembering the departed.”

If mourning is personal, and it is, then how can it be proclaimed that I need to be done saying kaddish if I don’t feel ready? The answer, in my opinion, is that kaddish is just one part of the grieving process, prescribed for all for the same amount of time, but it’s what you feel inside when saying kaddish that cannot be prescribed. In my opinion kaddish for 11 months is both for the living and for the departed soul.

I feel sadness. Have I truly had my mother in mind each time I have said kaddish? If kaddish is for the soul of the departed, then this is what I aspired to do. To sanctify God’s name in her memory and her soul’s memory. Now, after 11 months, what? I can no longer have the same impact on her soul? Sadness because our custom is to continue to mourn without saying kaddish for one more month. It is apparent that this month is about the living finding their own special way to continue the mourning without kaddish.

After all these months I still don’t know if kaddish is for the living, meaning kaddish is part of our mourning practices and affords a mourner a means of remembering their departed every day, or if kaddish is for the soul, meaning kaddish is said to sanctify God’s name in the name of the soul and through this their soul will be blessed. Either way, I feel sadness that these chances are over until yahrzeit.

I feel relief. Most everyone I know who has said kaddish for 11 months starts to feel the weight of the obligation. This obligation, as told to me by two people close to me, is one kaddish once a day; however, many, many people take on the added obligation of not wanting to miss the chance to say kaddish. I think, once again, that the stress that one starts to feel is indicative of the shift as to the major focus of the kaddish being for the living or for the soul. When one is saying kaddish as a means of mourning, they tend not to feel the stress as much as when it transitions to saying kaddish for the soul of the departed.

I feel happiness. I have been blessed in so many ways throughout this 96-week journey. One way is that I have formed a bond with some people who have not only welcomed me to their minyan, but have truly supported me during this time. When I started saying kaddish 96 weeks ago I decided that in order for me to be able to go to services every morning I needed to find services that started later in the morning. I now feel like I am truly a part of this minyan and I appreciate those who have made me feel that way. I feel blessed that I was able to say kaddish on most days with my brother; I know my mother would have wanted for both my brother and me to say kaddish for her together regardless of why we say kaddish.

I was asked to compare what it was like to say kaddish voluntarily, which I did for my wife’s parents, to saying kaddish for my mother. I would say that in some ways it was easier to say kaddish for my in-laws, because in that case I took it upon myself to do so, as opposed to saying kaddish for my mother, which is an obligation. The reason I say this is the obligation to say kaddish is one kaddish once a day by one person, not all kaddishes every day for all mourners. However, many, including me, take it on as an obligation to say kaddish three times a day.

I have learned that the same words of kaddish can mean different things to different people at different times of the mourning process, but the one common bond is that kaddish is the tool that helps us to begin to get back on the path of life after mourning. In the end, I still don’t know if kaddish is for the living or the soul of the departed, but I do know that kaddish is a step in the mourning process.

Through my experience I have learned that, just like each of us mourns differently, each of us has a slightly different experience saying the same words of kaddish, but what ties us together is that bond of following the same recipe to deal with our loss, that recipe being to say kaddish for 11 months.

By Jay Goldberg


Jay Goldberg is the volunteer director of food service and catering at Ohr Torah in West Orange, as well as VP of software development at Veritext. He has been married to Debbie Goldberg for 29 years and they have four children.

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