Author: J. Rosemary Moss
Genre: Contemporary; flash fiction
Summary: One man's wry and grudging observations on the Mourner's Kaddish.
Throughout All Time by J. Rosemary Moss is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
"Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba . . .”
I mouthed the words along with the cantor and the other mourners. Assuming the guy leading services was a real cantor. Probably not; he was more likely a competent congregant. This synagogue was too poor to afford a full time hazzan.
“b’alma di v’ra, kir’utei,”
I hadn’t been here in years. I hadn’t even come when my father died. I didn’t sit shiva for him either; I was too angry. My wife was appalled—Eileen’s a nice Catholic girl who understands the power of ritual. But I was adamant. I despised the man while he was alive, so I refused to go through the motions of mourning his death.
“v’yamlich malchutei b’chayeichon u-v’yomeichon . . .”
My G-d, I can’t believe how easily these words come back. That’s why my father forced me to go to Hebrew school, I suppose. He almost never set foot in synagogue himself, yet he wanted to make sure I knew something about it. Bloody hypocrite.
“u-v’chayei d’chol beit Yisrael,”
My parents never lit candles on Shabbat or recited the blessings. We didn’t keep kosher. Hell, even our Seder was just a glorified family dinner. And yet my father made sure I learned enough to feel obliged, on the anniversary of his death, to come and say Kaddish for him. G-d damned hypocritical bastard.
"ba’agala u-vi-z’man kariv, v’imru amen.”
I kept mouthing the words, even daring to speak up now that I knew I wouldn’t embarrass myself. Part of me wished that I could have stayed home and said it in private, but that was unthinkable. You need ten Jews to say Kaddish—it doesn’t work in isolation. If I was going to recite the thing at all, I was going to do it properly.
“Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach l’alam u-l’almei almaya.”
I rolled my eyes, wondering what my father would think if he could see me honoring his life. “May his memory be a blessing,” people had told me. I had to fight the urge to snort with laughter. Memories of what? Of his hypocrisy? Of his endless criticisms? Of his biting sarcasm? Of the unforgivable things he said about my wife?
“Yitbarach v’yishtabach, v’yitpa-ar v’yitromam v’yitnasei,”
He was good with the grandkids; I’ll give him that. Not that he would have ever have laid eyes on them if it were up to me. But Eileen insisted.
“v’yit-hadar v’yit’aleh v’yit-halal sh’mei d’kudsha, b’rich hu . . .”
It must have killed him to watch us raising the kids Catholic. But why should I have taught them anything about Judaism? Eileen’s the one who cares about religion, not me. Unlike my father, I won’t play the hypocrite for my children.
“l’ela min kol birchata v’shirata, tusb’chata v’nechamata . . .”
That means my kids will never say Kaddish for me. Well, so be it. Why should I care?
“da’amiran b’alma, v’imru amen.”
I closed my eyes, picturing my father saying Kaddish for my grandfather, and my grandfather saying Kaddish for my great-grandfather, and so on back through the generations. The line would end with me. My son would never stand in shul on my yartzeit, the anniversary of my death. He'd never even heard the word yartzeit.
“Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya . . .”
I opened my eyes as the prayer kept tumbling out of me. So my son would never say Kaddish. My father would ask what I expected when I married a gentile. But that wasn’t the problem. Eileen would have gladly taught the kids about Judaism—her idea had been to raise them with a sound knowledge of each faith and let them choose when they got older.
“v’chayim aleinu v’al kol Yisrae-el, v’imru amen.”
I argued that if we were going to give them any religion, it had to be one consistent faith. Otherwise we’d confuse them. They’d end up coldly agnostic like me or in some G-d-forsaken Messianic congregation. I could stand watching my kids growing up Catholic, but I’d be damned before I’d see them in some crazy Christian ‘synagogue’ filled with pretend Jews.
“Oseh shalom bi-m’romav,”
But for the first time, I thought about what my kids were missing. No, not Hebrew school. I wasn’t cruel enough to force that on them. But to think that I had kids who didn’t know what someone’s yartzeit was . . .
“hu ya’aseh shalom . . .”
I bowed to my left, to my right and then straight ahead. Funny how your body remembers to bow even if your brain doesn’t see the point. Did I believe that I was literally bowing before G-d’s throne, and to the angels standing to the right and left of it? No, but here I was going through the motions.
“aleinu v’al kol Yisrae-el . . .”
G-d damn it. It did matter. I almost tripped over the words, stunned, as that realization hit me.
I wanted my kids to say Kaddish for me someday, even if they were only going through the motions. I wanted them to learn how to make a real Seder—the kind I only experienced as a guest on second night. I wanted them to argue and question everything in shul. I wanted them to notice that something was missing when the family didn’t sit down together for Shabbat dinner.
But I’d already made my choice. I wasn’t about to confuse my kids now. I’d have to play the hypocrite after all. I'd have to pretend not to care.