Kaddish: On The Road
(finding community where you make it)
It’s taken almost a decade for me to write something of this account: I thought it a bit too personal to set out publicly. But the friends who know about it have always asked me to say something. Plus, I couldn’t resist smashing together the titles of two Beat Generation works for this account!
I won’t say much.
If you want to know more, perhaps we can talk in person (if you can catch me!)
My father died a little more than nine years ago.
In the Jewish Tradition, when a close relative dies, we have the practice of reciting something we call Kaddish.
We recite it three times a day,
for eleven months.
Without going into too much of the legal details, I should say that one can only say Kaddish in the presence of at least nine other adults. This minimum quorum of ten adults is called a minyan.
Having to do it this way means that you cannot do it whenever it is convenient: you have to intentionally find nine other adults.
It's not always so easy.
If, for whatever reason, you cannot find nine other adults, intentionally gathered for the express purpose of consituting a minyan, well then you don’t get to say Kaddish.
I think the relevant acronym is: S.O.L.
(Shmutz Outta Luck, for our Yiddish speakers)
Often times, quite noble and good people will regularly show up at a given time and place, just in case someone might need to say Kaddish. These are known as minyan men, or minyan women. They have built their day around your potential need, and they don't seek recognition.
One of the reasons I have not wanted to express any of this publicly is that I am concerned about sounding like a braggart. But after much prodding by friends . . .
So I said Kaddish everyday (at least once, and many times thrice) for eleven months. I didn’t always find a complete minyan, thus: S.O.L.
And it’s a real pain in the *** to have to schedule your whole day around locating and making a minyan.
But, of course, “it’s not about you.”
Detroit always has good minyans.
But sometimes, you show up at a place, dead of winter, seven in the morning, and you find that you're one or two people short.
And you wait
And you wait
And you're still short
And eventually you all decide that there will not be a minyan
And you don't say Kaddish
You can really make your minyan odds worse (or more interesting) when you do a road-trip around North America for a few months. Which is what I did with my wife, and first son; who was not yet a year old.
In order to say Kaddish, we had to schedule our “On The Road” based on the location of minyans.
See, you can find good things on the inter-web!
Toronto was easy: plenty of Jews along Bathurst Road.
In Montreal, I got to say Kaddish at least a dozen times in the shul where the great Leonard Cohen davened, and where his father, and grandfather had been community leaders.
Indianapolis, Saint Louis, Kansas City: all fairly easy to find big-box synagogues on quick pass-throughs.
Getting deeper into Kansas: had to find Chabad: they can always pull together ten Jews: some of them ranch hands and cowboys: if a Kansas minyan were a movie, it might be called “The Good, The Bad, and The Lubavitch”
All day, Saturday, in Taos, New Mexico, it was a retired college Literature professor, who had a dozen or so Jews studying Torah in a rented storage container on the outskirts of town.
Flagstaff, Arizona: couldn’t make a minyan.
Bakersfield, California: the synagogue was locked, and there didn’t seem to be anyone around but me.
San Francisco: well, you see, I used to live in San Francisco; so I knew a few reliable places: the Sephardic synagogue Magain David, where the chanted melodies are totally Arabic. And Beth Sholom, where I have so many memories of so many good people, who changed me in so many ways, and which I will not write about on FB.
Going north, and into Oregon, sometimes Chabad. Often no minyans.
Boise, Idaho: maybe fifty people for Shabbos, outside of town, in an old log cabin, which first opened as a shul in the 1890s.
Salt Lake City: several days in a big-box synagogue which was very vibrant, with a dynamic Rabbi.
In Aspen, you can easily make minyan: in homes, out in the woods, in the mountains, etc.
Denver took more digging.
Omaha: couldn’t make minyan.
Ottumwa, Iowa, was very special: B’Nai Jacob was probably a synagogue in which my grandparents and great-grandparents would have davened, when they lived in Ottumwa, in the early nineteen-hundreds. Although we couldn’t make minyan on Saturday, it was nonetheless a moving experience.
Iowa City: minyan of college kids, leftover on summer break.
Chicago: lots to choose from.
Sorry for lack of detail, but I hope you appreciate this much.
One thing I could say: I witnessed so many different ways that people were doing Jewish.
It was a real eye-opener for me: for I had, on the road, and for the first time, gone into Reform congregations, Orthodox shtiebels, totally experimental minyans, bais midrash, chanting and drums, outdoors, in the woods, totally reinvented . . .
I don’t want to say too much.
What I can say is that I learned that community is where you make it.
With a handful of guiding laws, such as a minimum number of people to constitute the community, you can make community.
It’s good and noble and a mitzvah to make community.
Even for a few hours.
Even if you wouldn’t otherwise know the people in your fleeting community.
Even if they seem to be nothing like you.
They are like you enough.
They are like you perhaps more than you realize.
When you find them, you have a community with them.
And you can say Kaddish
For those who are no longer with us