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20041224 Friday December 24, 2004

Learning to say kaddish Recent reading: Living a Year of Kaddish

One of the things rattling around my mind these days is grief. I recently listened to my dad, aunts and uncles eulogize my recently departed grandfather at his burial service in New Jersey. It's given me plenty to think about as far as what I knew of him on both a first and second hand basis. Growing up on a coast opposite of his, my knowledge of him has been the product of the fleeting visits and the lore passed on by my parents. But I'll always be fond of the interest he took in my goings about, the twinkle in his eye that sparked when he engaged in conversation with me and some of his funny little habits like cutting an article out of the newspaper for some anticipated future reference that would never take place.

The traditional grieving process has a number of rituals and practices that are vaguely familiar but only by hearing or reading of them. I've not before been proximate to these traditions but my grandfather's passing has produced an interest in them. So I picked up Living a Year of Kaddish by Ari Goldman to learn a little more about it. The book consists of a succession of short thought recordings (even blog-like, as it doesn't read like a diary) of the year that followed the death of Goldman's father. The traditional purpose of kaddish, a daily prayer for the deceased (preferably three times a day), is to help the loved one get closer to and eventually arrive at gan eden (paradise). Saying kaddish for eleven months and then on the death anniversary (yahrtzeit) is an obligation of the children but is also a prayer for all who grieve. At least, that's my understanding of it and my knowledge is nominal with these things. But I have to say that Goldman's take on it, that the purpose of kaddish is more inward looking, resonates with me more.

To me, kaddish is more for the living than for the dead. I believe that in my daily recitation of the prayer, I was coming to terms with who my father was and who I am. If I missed a day of kaddish, I suffered, not my father.
When I die, I want my children to say kaddish for me, but for themselves, too.
Indeed, I've been thinking a lot about who my grandfather was, who his eldest son, my father is and who I am. And what will my children know of my father and myself in the years ahead. There is much to consider. I previously didn't know the kaddish prayer but I'm taking the time to learn it now.

( Dec 24 2004, 03:31:40 PM PST ) Permalink