Tuesday, 24 March 2015

On Saying the last Kaddish of 11 months

Last night I could not sleep. The night before my final daily Kaddish of 11 months for my mother felt just like the night before the funeral again. A weird floating feeling of being untethered, without an anchor back to earth. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”—today it hit home. 

I know I will stand again for her yartzeit yearly. But this year of daily Kaddish has given me an identity as a mourner that is difficult to let go. “I’m in the 11 months for my mother” feels right. It feels like something I can hold onto, a way of speaking her name and our relationship daily. Not being to use those words feels like a small betrayal of her. As I wrap myself in her tallit— and I may be one of the few women of my generation who can say she wore her mother’s tallit— and bind my tefillin, I have a way to literally wind a ribbon of memory of her around my finger each morning, and a way to smell her perfume ever so faintly, and then, she is with me.  

I remember the last day of shiva, when I took off the torn black sweater, which identified me as a mourner. I felt raw, exposed to a world that did not know my sorrow.  Today I feel as if I have taken off the torn black sweater again, walked around the block, and am commanded to come home to some kind of new normalcy.

I must admit I don’t like this command, but I understand it totally. 

For 11 months I went to all sorts of minyanim all over the world. Some were very liberal, saying Kaddish without 10 being present. Some were very traditional, where half the time I was stared at and whispered about in my prayer-garb and the other half welcomed warmly and asked about my mother. Some were other people’s shiva minyans where I found comfort in sharing tears. Some were study-groups where people thanked me for ending a class in a spiritual way. I said Kaddish at the Taj Mahal with a tour group and at a Rabbinic conference with 500 other Rabbis and many times with my own shul, while reading the names of other people’s yartzeits and feeling their memories move across the room. Some services were incredibly tedious and some were incredibly moving. Sometimes I resented the happiness of the Bar Mitzvah family, the aufruf couple’s glow, or the babynaming’s promise of continuity, but mostly I marvelled at how life just goes on.

I noticed the liturgy, too: how three times during the morning service we declare G-d holy with Kedusha, reminding us how much we mourners need to see the holiness in our lives again. Three times in the morning service we tell of God’s forgiveness with V’hu Rachum reminding us how much we mourners have to forgive our loved ones for leaving us! All during the year the liturgy changes to reflect the season, and how much we mourners need to see that time flows and moves and Purim turns to Pesach, spring leads to summer, mourning leads to...well...not mourning. 

A strong, spiritual woman who should have been a Rabbi herself, I knew this tradition would mean alot to my mother, but I didn’t know how much it would end up meaning to me. I will miss the daily Kaddish and when I left the minyan I have been attending regularly today, I saw how much the community of mourners turned to me with both jealousy and sadness. They understand. I will be back tomorrow to support them. I cannot promise I will continue to go daily, but I have seen through these months of mourners coming and going that those who sow in tears will someday, somehow, with some effort, reap in joy.


  1. A beautiful journey. I am so proud of you for following the journey from a place of principle and from the depth of your soul. Your mother was a Rabbi, in a way, she was a leader and it didn't stop with her passing. She was with you in a unique way while you honored her morning, afternoon and night. What a blessing. Sometimes you could feel her presence deeply and profoundly and other times, places, there was no doubt obscurity. And now, the relationship changes again. The memories have less structure and context and are free flowing without the benefit and limitation of time impositions and anything linear. Now you stand among your community and your memories flow at an undefined pace. Bless you. Love Adrienne

  2. Hugs from Kfar Saba for a moment when words are too small.

  3. Beautifully written Elyse. Good luck on the next stage of your journey.