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The Last Kaddish


This shabbat I will say the last kaddish for my father ז”ל.

I will stand as I have now hundreds of times and repeat the mantra said by my ancestors countless times throughout our history.

Yitkadal vayitkadash, may His name be great and holy.

And there are times I wanted to forget, there are times for a minute here and there I did forget…the shock, the pain, the loss, the anger, the sadness, the despair, the sorrow, the nostalgia, the memories.

But kaddish, it brought it all back, it made me remember, it beckoned me into His arms, His embrace, my father, my protector, my history, my past, my present, my future.

This is a Divine gift we are given – to forget, it allows us to live, to continue, to move on. But memory is an imperative, one we are commanded to do as Jews daily. Without it we become unhinged, a disconnected dot in the vastness of history. To live in the tension between amnesia and memory is the legacy of Yaakov as conveyed in this week’s parsha – he wanted to forget: his past, his father, his brother, the trauma of the last encounter, his deceit, his mother’s coercion. In Lavan’s house it’s easy to forget, to detach, to disappear. And yet he is commanded to return, to face his past, his childhood memories, the duality of self. At the edge of the Yabkuk he stands wrestling the conflicting elements of memory and oblivion, past and present. He is forced to וַיֹּאמֶר הַגִּידָה-נָּא שְׁמֶךָ‘ – to say his name, the גיד הנשה  the sinew reminds us to להגיד הנשה – to recall that which has been forgotten, to uncover that we have repressed, to remember that which we have forced ourselves to forget. We receive our name Yisrael and with it the legacy of that tension that forms our history, between forgetting in order to move forward and build, and remembering in order to know why we build and who we are. This is the eternal story of our people.

And now as I approach the last kaddish I am scared. I won’t have that moment any more, that time to stop, that time to think, that time to connect. I’m scared to let it go, to let him/Him go, I’m afraid to move forward, to move on, to return to the life that was before, or the reality that is without.

And there were times I didn’t want to face up to the reality and there were times I didn’t want to praise Him because why? Why him? Why me? Why my mother? Why my father? But when I stood and I echoed the words uttered by so many before me, declared in far worse and far more tragic circumstances, I remember that even then in the darkest moments of our history my people had the courage and aptitude to remain in dialogue with their Creator, and so must I. And I must, like my forefather Yaakov, see the blessing, I must find the courage to return to my past, to integrate the duality within, to search for some meaning, some light, some incomplete redemption. I must like my forefather Yaakov, appreciate that every stage opens up the possibility for change, for new identities, for looking behind and looking ahead. And though I may stagger, limping as I walk, I own the scar of the past because that is now part of who I am.  But most importantly, when I struggle with the angel at the edge of the river, I must never forget to ask for a blessing because only then, can I get to the other side.  

N.B. A small reflection of saying kaddish: it was a choice I made, though it was never a conscious one, it just happened. My brothers’ commitment to never missing a kaddish, is one I could not do, but my commitment to saying it once a day, and every minyan on Shabbat has itself been a journey riddled with challenges but equally immense meaning and purpose. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have come to an unfamiliar minyan and they have said to me “there isn’t anywhere for you to stand, do you not have brothers to say it?” But I have also lost count of the number of times I have been choked up by how incredibly encouraging people around me have been, and those moments when I get to the end of tefillah and I’m the only woman in a room full of men and my heart is beating waiting to see if someone will be saying it with me and then they don’t, and I’m saying it alone and every single man responds to my kaddish – as if its normal, as if it’s a given, that for me is the moment I know that this was the right decision, for me, my daughters and for the daughters of tomorrow.

It is a journey I could not have done alone, the understanding of my children, my community, and above all else my husband Ian without whom there is no way it could have happened, has at times moved me to tears. I pray this a journey I will not be travelling along again for a very very long time to come.

יהי רצון מלפניך ד’ אלוקי ואלוקי אבותי תשלח מהרה רפואה שלמה מן השמים רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף לחולה מינדל ליבא בת פיגע פרל בתוך שאר חולי עמך ישראל.

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