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

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times