Kaddish is the long—the longest—goodbye.
There are only two ways to take the responsibility (and privilege) to say Kaddish for a loved one, especially a parent. As sacred and sacrosanct—inviolable. Or, as casual.
Neither choice is right and the other way isn’t wrong. But they are different.
The latter is where you show honor to a loved one, and you are careful to be semi-regular in it. But life happens, and you miss. That’s OK.
In the first case though, it’s almost never OK. Everything else fails on the scales. Work, family and your personal self are all dumped far into the backseat. That pressing deadline? The invitation to an important meeting or event? A crying child? Spouse in need?
Everything, everyone, pales.
Nothing is as important as the Kaddish.
You rearrange flights, you drive miles out of your way, you cajole and beg people to shlep out to a minyan.
It is why I sprinted across four terminals in the Charlotte airport to grab an earlier connection. It’s why I spent hundreds of dollars on taxis and, for the very first time, trempped across Israel. It’s why I arranged flights with the tightest of timelines, almost missed so many flights and why I drove through the night when flights were canceled.
This is what I came to call “adventures in Kaddish.”
The minyanim in Canton, Toledo and Youngstown, and even one at a Cleveland dental supply. The backs—and fronts—of Jewish book stores. Texting locals frantically while trying to get a time and an address. Stalking day schools for a strangely timed mincha that frees up some travel time. The memory of the late-night ad hoc group at a Florida hotel over Passover, the jamming into an El Al kitchen galley during turbulence, and the impromptu extra Kaddish I threw in at an Edot Mizrach shul in south Tel Aviv. Or that most heartfelt of prayers while in traffic on I-71: God, please help me make Kaddish.
Everyone asks: Would my father have minded if I had chosen to be more lackadaisical?
I tell people it would be the opposite. He’d have counseled it.
“Relax, don’t make yourself crazy,” he would have said.
But I know he would have been the one making himself crazy for a loved one.
If Kaddish seems like a long goodbye, as a way to still connect to the one we’ve lost, doing it as insanely as he would have honored his memory, and showed him, the world and myself that I’d learned (some might say too well) from his example.
I’ve joked that I talk to my Dad more now than when he was alive. But my Kaddish obsession helped him talk back.
Tradition holds the Kaddish prayer is a merit to the deceased, but I think it’s actually the gut wrenching, no-holds-barred efforts to “catch Kaddish” that brings such merit on high. And that’s because it morphs the monologue of speaking to the dead into dialogue.
I felt my Dad’s talking as we found the “tzenter” in Small Town USA, just as I felt him urge me to try this shul over that one in Israel.
This one had a minyan. The other did not.
And how’d I do?
Eleven crazy months, in five states, two countries and too many cities to count, I didn’t miss one date on the Jewish calendar. All told, a literal handful of missed minyanim. One when my wife was giving birth, and I missed a few scattered services when a relative was in the ICU and I needed to watch over them. In each case, I know my Dad would’ve told me I was exactly where I needed to be.
Now, minyan is still on my schedule, but the anxiety is gone.
And sadly, with a finality that Kaddish pushed off for so long, gone too, in a way I didn’t feel for almost a year, is my dad.
By Howie Beigelman