July 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Most Beautiful Kaddish

I first met David S. in the hospital as he was saying goodbye to his dying mother. David’s sister had arrived from afar to be present. Mr. S., their loving father, was sitting alongside the hospital bed, saying goodbye to his wife of 73 years. After I said final prayers (“Vidui”) with Mrs. S., I spent some time with this wonderful family as they each reflected on the life of this most special woman. These moments are always a very difficult yet meaningful time for my presence.

Mrs. S. passed away the following day.

David mentioned to me how upset he was at the location of his mother’s grave, which had been purchased by his father; the plot was right by the edge of the road. David felt it was not the most ideal of locations and he could not fathom why his father would have chosen that particular location as burial plots. In addition, David felt saddened at being unable to have “shiva,” since his mother had passed away on the eve of the holiday of Sukkot, thereby eliminating the shiva week.

Until then, David had never been a regular attendee of daily synagogue services. In fact, he had gone to the synagogue only for Sabbath morning services for many years. However, saying Kaddish for his deceased mother became one of the utmost priorities in his life. David became “a regular” to attending services three times a day. As a busy and highly dedicated doctor in a hospital, devoted caretaker to a widowed, aging father, proud husband, father and grandfather, David felt extremely stretched and challenged to attend services. However, he was absolutely committed to saying the mourner’s Kaddish.

For months, this continued … until March of this year.

With the onset of COVID-19 and the absence of synagogue services, David’s recital of Kaddish came to a sudden halt. The pain, hurt and confusion he felt and expressed to me was palpable. However, there was nothing to be done other than to accept it as God’s will.

Soon thereafter, Mr. S. became my patient. A 94-year-old distinguished-looking man, Mr. S. always welcomed my presence in his hospital room. He would most often greet me with a smile and then reflect a bit on his life. He loved when I would pray with him, each time wanting to put a yarmulke on his head, and always answering the prayer with a loud “Amen.”

When I would see David, he would often tell me intriguing and helpful information about his father. I learned about Mr. S.’s fascinating life story, having lived in Austria, Romania, Poland, Bucharest, Russia, Prague, France, Czechoslovakia, Texas and New York. He knew 10 languages! I learned of the kind of person Mr. S. was: a man who was fearless, generous, a defender of his family and who lived a life with integrity. He was a man who valued the State of Israel, in particular the Ruzhiner yeshiva in Jerusalem, as it maintained a long-lasting bond with his family lineage. I learned that Mr. S. would never see a hungry person in the street without offering him money for food, and I learned of his extreme appreciation toward the U.S. military. Mr. S. always believed and shared with others that no matter how “dark” things seemed, “tomorrow would be a better day.” He would smile and his face would light up when I would mention the people in his family by their names. Mr. S., at the age of 95, was a proud father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

I was impressed with the entire family. David’s respect, care, admiration and honor toward his father was very humbling and inspirational for me to witness. The tremendous dedication, patience and support that David’s wife provided to Mr. S. was remarkable. David’s sister illustrated to me true love, thoughtfulness, concern and kindness.

Mr. S., though quite sick, always managed to pull through his hospitalizations. Until the last.

In addition to other medical conditions he had, Mr. S. had suffered a stroke and was dying. Considering that the hospital was not allowing visitors, David was fortunate to be present in the hospital and to say the final prayers with his father. David placed the phone to his father’s ear as his sister was able to express her love, reflect on positive memories, and say goodbye to her father from afar. The words she spoke to her father were so powerful, genuine and came straight from her heart. Mr. S. also heard the voices of his loving grandchildren on the phone as they, too, said goodbye. There is absolutely no doubt that Mr. S. heard every word that was spoken from each member of the family.

However, for David, the mere thought of not being able to say Kaddish for his father at the impending funeral, due to cemetery COVID restrictions, was all-encompassing. First the Kaddish recitation had come to a halt with his mother, and now he would not even have the opportunity to start saying Kaddish for his father! David was terribly distraught and was willing to go to extreme measures to ensure that Kaddish would be said when the time would come. Phone calls were made to various “connections” to plead his case. Unfortunately, it seemed like a lost cause.

Hours later, Mr. S. passed away peacefully, while holding his son’s hand.

The funeral was planned for the following day, with only three family members being permitted to attend.

The morning of the funeral, David passionately appealed to the cemetery director to allow others to be present in order to have a “minyan” to recite Kaddish.

Mr. S. had always been his children’s defender in so many situations throughout their lives, and now, at the very end, David represented the role of defender. He was defending what he felt would be the ultimate form of respect he could bring to his father. For David, that meant reciting the Kaddish.

After relentless pleading, the cemetery director finally acquiesced to the request—only due to the fact that the grave was positioned where it was: alongside the road. He would allow the requisite number of men to stand by their cars, thereby allowing a minyan! If the plot would have been positioned anywhere else, he would not have permitted the minyan.

The wondrous hand of Hashem was so abundantly clear to me, to David and to the family. Months ago, David had been so distressed about those plots due to their location! However, those graves, in their seemingly poor location, allowed him to say the Kaddish he so desperately wanted to say. Furthermore, due to some lifted state restrictions on that day of the funeral, minyanim conducted outside (with limited amounts of people) were now being allowed, enabling David to resume attending services to say Kaddish for his mother and now for his father. A true miracle.

Many people were watching the funeral on that beautiful sunny day, via Zoom, from near and from far. Some beautiful eulogies were presented from the family. The poignant eulogy spoken by David’s sister, in particular, touched the hearts of many. The dirt was then shoveled by the few members who were in attendance.

When that was completed, the tears welled in my eyes, for I knew what was about to come…

A prayer that would soon come from the complete depths of a heart.

A prayer that I knew had tremendous meaning.

A prayer whose recitation was at first hopeless, but only by the hands of Hashem had worked out.

David began in a very confident, proud, yet shaking voice to recite the most beautiful Kaddish I have ever heard: “Yisgadel Viyiskadash Shimei Rabba….”

Note: This story was written in memory of Mr. S. May his soul continue to have an aliyah.


Debby Pfeiffer is a board-certified chaplain working at Morristown Medical Center through its affiliation with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, NJ. She resides in Bergenfield, NJ, with her husband and children. She can be reached at [email protected].

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