Commentary Magazine

From the American Scene:
A Summer Kaddish

Sh’loshim, the first sorrowful month of mourning. I now began a new schedule of living, arising each day a full hour earlier than was my custom. Then from their embroidered velvet sack I would take the t’filin, now cleaned and made ready for use again. Patiently our rabbi had re-introduced me to their windings and the prayers that went with them.

You know the story well enough. Many of us attend services only three times a year. I had gone nearly every Friday night and on an occasional Saturday morning. Now all that was changed by the thrice-daily recitations of kaddish—each morning, afternoon, and evening. My whole life had to be re-ordered. More than once, I was obliged to daven minchah and ma-ariv in strange places, under strange conditions, in order to recite kaddish before and after sundown.

My business suffered. Duties neglected during the first week’s shiva, and less than half-heartedly attended to the week following, piled up and demanded attention. But I fulfilled my obligations, regardless of the difficulties, for twenty-nine days.



This, then, is the story of my thirtieth day of mourning. More correctly, my thirtieth evening, for the days are reckoned from sundown rather than sunrise.

That morning before going to the office I said kaddish with our regular minyan. In the afternoon I telephoned my wife to tell her that I would be home from work early, about six. Would she please have dinner ready so that I could leave before seven? I had a most important business appointment later that evening at a place nearly thirty miles from home.

Mother had died early in July; it was now August. Those congregations that had not suspended for the summer were holding their evening services around seven forty-five or eight o’clock. I felt sure that if I left home by seven, I would find a minyan somewhere along my way. But to be safe, I consulted the telephone book and on a slip of paper noted the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of congregations in the communities I would be driving through.

The setting sun shone brightly enough when I stopped at a gas station in the first town on my itinerary. The attendant could direct me to the synagogue but could not say whether it was open evenings. It was not.

And so I drove to the next place on my list, only to find that it too was closed. Outside, on its bulletin board was listed the phone number of the rabbi’s study. I dialed it but got no response. I spent the next ten minutes trying to reach the other synagogues whose telephone numbers I had taken down. None answered.

There was little time left. I returned to my car and headed for the town where my appointment was. The synagogue there was my last hope. But in my haste I lost my way, and began wandering over unfamiliar roads. A policeman was able to tell me how to reach the main road off which the synagogue was located, but did not know whether I should then turn left or right.

“Which way is the town itself?” I asked.

“To the left,” he told me, and so, when I came to the road, I turned left. My logic backfired. I reached the town without finding the synagogue. But I found two Jews who were able to direct me to it. I should have turned right, they said.

The sun could no longer be seen in the sky when I turned my car around and started to retrace my route. Just past the point where I had made my wrong turn I found the synagogue. It stood on a hill, and as I sped toward it I whispered to myself the words of the kaddish, hoping that God would find them an acceptable substitute for those which should have been spoken with the minyan I had surely missed. But a light shone in one room of the building, and another kindled in my heart.

I left my parked car. Through the glass front of the synagogue I could see men closing their sidurim. The light in my heart went out, my chance of a final kaddish gone. I bolted through the door.

“Am I too late for a kaddish?” I begged more than asked.

“My son,” replied the rabbi, “we’re waiting for you. You’re our tenth for a minyan.”

We began our prayers, those nine men and I. Words on the page, which I could not read through misty eyes, found their way to my lips by rote. No one asked me questions; I volunteered no answers. When the last amen was said, I thanked the rabbi with a silent handshake, a mourner’s thanks for a summer kaddish.

Ma tovu—how goodly are thy tent(h)s, O Jacob!”


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