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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Kaddish-The Value of Community

A Reflection as We Approach the Eleven Months

Kaddish is a 13th century prayer that glorifies God, but mostly it takes the mourner and puts her in a public forum at a time that she is vulnerable and mourning. The act of saying kaddish has the mourner stand before her contemporaries and declare that God is great. The words flow like a type of poetry and the mourner can gather comfort from not only the ancient rhythm of the words, but also by the support that others offer during a fraught time.

Saying kaddish connects the generations, and as one recites it, it is easy to imagine oneself as part of a long chain that extends backwards in time.

My husband began saying kaddish for his mother nine years ago at Sephardic congregation which had a daily minyan. He took on the obligation to honor his mother's memory and went to the synagogue each morning, and when he could, evenings as well. He rose from bed faithfully each morning by 6:00 AM in order to arrive on time to shul. Others did the same in order to be there for each other on an ongoing basis. This obligation to the community was so strong that following the eleven months of kaddish, my husband continued to attend minyan faithfully for the sake of others in the community.

There were a number of life enhancing benefits that went along with my husband attending morning minyan. There was sheer routine of having something to get up in the morning to attend shul. Cold or rain, tired or not tired he would get up each morning to get to shul on time. Shul got him up in the morning and was an organizing force for his day. Added to this, the davening at the Sephardic shul was gentle and mesmerizingly beautiful, so attending shul was also a meditative experience for him. The strongest benefits by far though were the bonds that were formed among the participants to create a strong community.

When my father passed away, my husband was a great role model for the commitment that kaddish demands. From him I learned the lesson of community. For the year of kaddish for my dad, I was rewarded with an in person community of women with whom I shared kaddish. For my mom, kaddish at the Sephardic minyan was interrupted by Covid, and virtual kaddish at KI began. The longer I said Kaddish at KI, the more connected I was to the community and the more I developed a sense of wanting to be there for the group, similar to the experience that my husband had at the Sephardic minyan. What struck me the very most though, and continues to intrigue me now, is how a feeling of community is formed in a virtual setting? How is a feeling of commitment to the community created when you really don't know the other people in the room with you? What creates the common ground when you each sit inside your living room, virtually appearing in a small Zoom rectangle on the screen? What connects you when you are not experiencing shul in person?

Community is expressed in so many different ways in our lives. It is our commitment to each other as a group. It is a shared set of values expressed both communally, religiously and socially. It is a bond set over time and over occasions big and small. It is a commitment to one another on a daily basis or a monthly or even yearly basis. Community develops over periods of time and constantly changes as people in the community change or values change. I think that the constant is believing in each other as we express a belief in something else, whether that be faith or a principle or a beloved activity. Put those components together and you have that wordless understanding that you belong to something bigger than yourself, something that is worthy of your time and dedication.

Kaddish is just a series of words put together long ago. Reciting those words as part of a community starts the slow healing process of the mourner. The kaddish prayer is the band-aid for the mourner, but the community functions as many of the other things it takes to allow a person to heal. The community is the vitamin, the salve, the rest, the chicken soup and the love that exists to bring the mourning process from its ragged beginnings to it softer endings. Whether online or in the physical presence of others, saying kaddish allows us to build bonds with others in the community as we slowly release the temporal and physical bonds with our loved ones.

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