As told to Penina Pinchasi
I’ve never wanted to be a man. I’ve never longed to be called up to the Torah, put on tefillin, be counted in a minyan or even make the berachah – She’lo asani ishah – that thanks G-d for not making me a woman.
I’m not a feminist nor a member of the women’s lib movement, and I’ve always been happy in my role as a Jewish religious female.
But one thing bothered me. That when my father died suddenly when I was newly married there was no one who had to say Kaddish for him. I am one of four daughters and he had no brothers.
My parents-in-law were still alive and as it’s the accepted custom that a person says Kaddish for someone only after he has to say it for his own parent; there was no son-in-law to say Kaddish either.
It wasn’t that there was no one was willing to say Kaddish for my father. My uncle, my mother’s brother-in-law, said Kaddish for him the whole year and on his yahrzeit every year. But he didn’t have to say Kaddish. He did so out of friendship and respect for my father and as a favor to my mother.
Later on, my own husband was able to say Kaddish for my father on his yahrzeit and I always tried to be in shul to answer the Kaddish silently from my side of the mechitzah and I also gave tzedaka in his memory – but I always felt it wasn’t enough.
One late afternoon, on the day before his yahrzeit we were traveling from Tel Aviv back to our home in Jerusalem to be in time to go to our own local shul for maariv where my husband would also be the shaliach tzibbur and lead the davening, as he did on all our parents’ yahrzeits.
Suddenly out of the trees at the side of the road stepped a figure dressed in what can only be described as Biblical garb, a long flowing robe and flowing head covering. I laughed and pointed him out to my husband. “He looks like he’s an extra in some Biblical film.” But the truth is you get used to seeing oddly dressed people in Israel.
“Well if he is, I think he’s lost his way,” my husband replied. “Should we offer him a ride; there are no buses on this road.”
I thought for a second. “Why not, he can’t be a terrorist dressed so obviously weirdly. Yes go on, stop and see where he’s heading.”
My husband stopped the car and the man leisurely approached us, almost as if he knew we would stop.
My husband started to speak to him, but he just ignored him and silently leaned inside and handed us a leaflet, the only thing he held in his hand. Then, without saying a word, he turned round and walked back to where he had appeared from.
“Huh he’s just selling something. But what a place. How could he know we’d stop?”
We started the car and drove off and I opened the leaflet to see what he was selling.
I started to shiver as I read what was written.
It was no sales leaflet.
It was a beautifully written explanation of the importance of answering ‘amen’ to Kaddish when it is recited for a yahrzeit. I looked back out of the car, but the figure had disappeared.
Who was he?
What was he doing on that deserted stretch of road just as we passed?
Why had he not stayed to inform other drivers of this mitzvah?