Tuesday, January 17, 2017

One Year Of Mourning - Yarhzeit

Today we have our first Yarhzeit. This is the anniversary of the death of a parent (although it can be observed for any close relative or friend). There are various customs but the bottom line is that you light a memorial candle that burns for 24 hours, say the Kaddish prayer and keep the day sombre. (The references say refrain from eating meat or drinking wine. Seriously? I never do either of these in the middle of the week.)

The first Yarhzeit also marks the end of the year of official mourning which you observe only for your parents. (Otherwise people from big families could have years of mourning as they all get older.)

It's a funny old year. There are rules and customs and, it seems, in the end everyone does what they feel comfortable doing. The main customs are not to go to any parties or places of entertainment - defined as places where there is live music, not to wear any new clothes, and to say the Kaddish prayer three times a day with a minyan (a quorum of 10 Jewish men over the age of Bar Mitzva).

Many Jewish men do go to three services a day throughout their lives, Most don't. I remember my father going to a service once a day when he was saying Kaddish for his father. At the weekends he would go to our local shul (synagogue) for the morning service and when at work, he'd go to the afternoon service at the shul near his office in Great Portland Street, London.

I wanted to say Kaddish but it was not realistic to think I could get to a minyan even once a day. As a full-time working, single mother, without a car, I can't even commit to getting to the supermarket once a week. It is for this reason that women are actually exempt from saying Kaddish. Yes, that's right, we don't have to do it at all. But I, like many modern Jewish women, wanted to say it.

My sister in London, who has older children and a car, committed to saying Kaddish with a minyan once a day for the first 30 days (a period of more intense mourning). In the end she continued for the whole year as she said she found it comforting. I don't know what my brother did - I didn't ask and he didn't tell me.

I decided to say Kaddish on my own at home without a minyan for the whole year.  This decision was reinforced by two events that occurred at our shiva. The first was on the Sunday of the shiva. There was a discussion about whether we could get a minyan at the house for the afternoon service or whether my sister and brother would have to go to shul. We had five men in the house (brother, bro-in-law, and three teenage nephews), We had two visiting males and they were wondering if they should knock on the neighbour's door to ask him and his two sons to come and make up the numbers. At that moment I decided that even if I had the opportunity to say Kaddish with a minyan, I would not. I had no interest in giving significance to a minyan that I was not even considered a part of, to heighten my Kaddish. In fact, after that incident, I started leaving the room when they did services in the house in order to say my Kaddish in private.

A few days later my sister's rabbi was visiting and they were discussing how she was going to say Kaddish in the shul. He said, "you just have to make sure that someone is saying Kaddish."
I was confused. "What do you mean? She's saying Kaddish."
The rabbi turned to me and answered with a completely straight face, "as she is a woman, a man has to say the Kaddish with her. It can be another mourner or it can be any man who has previously lost a parent."
Gobsmacked is a word I could use here to describe my reaction. I kept my mouth shut however.
After the rabbi had left, other friends told me that not all other orthodox shuls hold by that rule and that it's entirely at the discretion of the individual rabbi in charge. My decision to not say Kaddish with a minyan was confirmed as the right decision for me.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about my Kaddish experience and explain what the prayer is. And later about how I avoided parties, live music and new clothes.

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