The Power of Kaddish for Believers and Skeptics Alike

March 2 2018

According to tradition, a Jew is required to recite kaddish for eleven months following the death of a close relative. For the Orthodox, fulfilling this obligation requires finding a minyan—a quorum of ten adult Jewish males—three times every day. Jay Lefkowitz, now mourning the death of his father, reflects on the experience:

[T]he kaddish is an odd prayer to have become the centerpiece of mourning. Despite its association with death and dying, it does not mention the word death. Instead, it is a repetitive celebration of the glory of God. . . . [But] the text of the prayer leaves me cold. Each day as I say kaddish, I struggle with the fact that I am praising a God who, according to [its words], created the world “according to His Will.” Does God really will that the world endure the cruelty and suffering we see so often? And, on a more personal level, did God will that my father, an intellectual who suffered from dementia, would lose the ability to communicate and have the mental faculties of a five-year-old during his last eighteen months on earth? . . .

Yet despite my theological ambivalence, I am turning somersaults to say kaddish at three different prayer services each day. . . . Already, in the two months since my father passed away at the age of eighty-six, I have prayed in synagogues and office buildings, schools and private homes in far-flung places, including Texas, Florida, California, Colorado, Copenhagen, and London. . . .

Unlike some people, Jewish and non-Jewish, who take great comfort in communicating with God, I am not confident that God even listens to our prayers. Yet I have reoriented my life to accommodate my obligation to say kaddish. And I do so cheerfully because it links me to Jews across generations and continents. It defines me as a member of the tribe. My tribe.

That is the essential gift of the kaddish. It fosters community for a person who has just suffered a searing loss of a parent or sibling, spouse or child, even when we find ourselves far from home. Even if the words themselves offer little comfort, I take great satisfaction in this communal act of prayer; of hearing the voices of others respond to my own prayers; and of being welcomed and enveloped by a larger and transcendent community. And in that experience, I honor and reconnect with my father.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Judaism, Kaddish, Mourning, Religion & Holidays

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war