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Review: Living A Year Of Kaddish, A Memoir

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Title: Living A Year Of Kaddish, A Memoir
Author: Ari. L. Goldman
Publisher: Schocken Books,
New York, N.Y.

Do we say the Kaddish to honor our lost ones, to satisfy our own innate yearnings, or to teach the next generation?

Ari Goldman, author of The Search for G-d at Harvard (and formerly religion columnist at The New York Times), invited us along on his search for himself during the year that he fulfilled his obligation of publicly mourning for his father.

Like most of us who forget to search our souls for the true meanings of our relationships with our parents until it is too late, Goldman bares his soul and helps us realize what a powerful tool of continuity is our custom of saying the Kaddish with a minyan.

Mourning our beloved is an intensely private experience for each person, but Jewish law prescribes public mourning for each man by saying Kaddish (with no obligation, but no restriction either, for each woman).

Goldman found this an opportunity to reconnect with community, and himself became quite a builder of community, including active participation and office-holding in a prominent West-Side New York synagogue, Cong. Ramath Orah. There he found a shul that, at first, barely scraped together weekday minyanim, but eventually became a home for quite a large congregation who enjoyed the sense of community with each other.

The memoir also unearths an ugly side of inhospitality and prejudice, of “Jew vs. Jew” attitudes of some of the people that Goldman met along his journey of self-discovery, but he also discovers beauty and shared companionship from many who go to great lengths to be there to answer “Amen” to Ari’s Kaddish.

Many of our great minds have left us inspired with their efforts to assemble a matzevah to their loved ones. Mozart wrote his marvelous “Requiem,” Handel his “Messiah,” Leonard Bernstein his “Kaddish” and “Cichester Psalms,” each in their attempt to show us, by example, the depths of their emotions.

I, for one, can’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday, but thank goodness Ari Goldman keeps good notes to offer us insight into his experiences. Reciting the Kaddish together with a minyan is a uniquely Jewish experience that assists the community’s efforts to help the individual grieve and cope with their loss. It forces retrospection and causes us to pray that we merit becoming a living memorial to our forbears.

Each of us, in our time, will unfortunately live a year of our own Kaddish. Ari’s memoir of his year, following the demise of his beloved father, is an excellent example to be shared with friends and family – even friends who may not be Jewish.

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