My smart, funny, kind, hard-working, and nurturing mother, Eve Piltch Glick, passed away in June, 2018, at the age of 99. Peacefully, in her sleep, in her recliner, in her apartment, after an evening of listening to Yiddish music with me and enjoying a late night snack of blueberry cake and whipped cream.
As a person who lost a parent, the eleven months following the funeral presented the opportunity to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish during the three daily prayer services: the morning Shacharit service, the afternoon Mincha service, and the evening Maariv service.
One of the first concepts I learned as this period began was the status of being “chiyuv,” which is translated as “obligated.” There is a tradition that someone who has lost a parent is “chiyuv” during the eleven-month period to lead the davening at the daily service, if the person is able and comfortable to do so. I learned that there are various customs relating to the situation where there are several people present who are chiyuv, so that the opportunities to lead services can be shared.
I also soon became aware of the variety of daily minyans where I live in Brookline, and in neighboring Newton and Brighton, and the fact that different ones meet at different times. This choice of minyans and synagogues soon resulted in my participating in different ones, depending on my daily schedule. And this led me to many interesting experiences.
At my Brookline neighborhood shul, throughout the eleven months I was frequently given the opportunity to lead the davening at the afternoon or evening service. I always found this to be meaningful.
At my first visit to the evening minyan at another synagogue, I approached the rabbi with a question after the service. I introduced myself by explaining that my mother had recently passed away. The rabbi replied that his mother had also recently passed away, and then he added, “So we are brothers in mourning.” I took tremendous comfort from the personal connection that the rabbi – who had never met me before – made by sharing those words with me.
A week or two later, at a different synagogue, the rabbi came up to me and inquired what had brought me there that day. I became very emotional and could barely speak. A few weeks later I saw him again after the service and pointed out that this time I was not crying. He replied, “You are welcome here with tears or without tears.” Again, a very comforting moment!
At one of the synagogues that I often attended, there is a beautiful custom of giving people who are observing the anniversary of the death of a loved one the opportunity to say a sentence or two about that person, and perhaps to describe something that made that person special. The very first congregant I heard do this was a middle-aged man who was observing the Yahrzeit of his mother. When asked what made her special, his reply was sweet and direct. He said, “She was my mother.”
At another synagogue, a monthly traditional ritual that I found very interesting is “Kiddush Levana,” or in English “Sanctification of the Moon.” This takes place at night, outside of the synagogue, following the evening service for the conclusion of Shabbat, and it occurs during the early part of the new Jewish month when the moon is bright enough to be visible. Kiddush Levana concludes with the “Aleinu” prayer, and then the Mourner’s Kaddish. Reciting the Kaddish for my mother, outside at night under a sky illuminated by the bright moon, was a powerful experience.
By leading the davening at various services, I learned that different shuls have different customs. At one minyan, I was required to wear a tallis to lead the afternoon service. At another I would wear a suit jacket when I led the service. But the most interesting custom was when I was required to wear a hat (over my kippah) in order to lead the davening. I did not have a hat, so the gabbai – the person in charge – took off the derby-style hat that he was wearing and placed it on my head. I could picture my mother enjoying a chuckle at the sight of me leading the davening while wearing a derby.
During those eleven months, I experienced a heightened awareness of the passage of time. In large part this was due to the scheduled times of the afternoon and evening services, which in many places take place just before and just after sunset. So as the time of sunset changes, so do the times for the afternoon and evening services. I started saying Kaddish in June, when sunset is very late, and initially I thought of the afternoon and evening service as something that happened late in the day. A few months later the services were taking place at 6:00 pm, and then in December they were as early as 4:00 pm. So the structure of my day would keep changing, from going to the minyan after dinner, to delaying the time for dinner so that I could first go to the minyan, to leaving work early to go to the minyan. But even though the time kept changing, the one constant – which was reassuring – was that before the day was over there would be an opportunity to join the minyan to say Kaddish.
After many months had passed, I started to realize that there were not very many weeks left before the eleven month period of saying Kaddish would conclude. The thought of my daily routine coming to an end began to make me uneasy. My mother’s passing had resulted in many adjustments in my life, and I was not looking forward to another change. I began to count the number of remaining days, and I started to wonder how many more opportunities I might have to lead the davening as a “chiyuv.”
Then, as I was getting into my car one day, an entirely new way of looking at the situation came to me. I realized that eleven months is actually a pretty long time, and I thought back to all that I had experienced during these months. I met many nice people and had many meaningful conversations. I got to know different rabbis. I became comfortable in, and felt a part of, several synagogues. A year earlier I did not know these people, and I had not had these synagogue experiences. The daily routine of coming to shul to say Kaddish had expanded my world in many positive ways.
So instead of being sad that the time for saying Kaddish was coming to an end, I started to appreciate this period as a gift from my mother – my smart, funny, kind, hard-working, and nurturing mother – whose guidance I thankfully was still able to feel.
Arnie Glick grew up in Lynn and lives in Brookline. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.