First Encounters – Death & Kaddish

Aryeh BenDavid
September 24, 2014
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I was 58 years old when my father suddenly died last Erev Rosh HaShana.

On the one hand, I was blessed to know my father for a very long time.

On the other hand, 58 years of relationship is very hard to lose.

This was my first intimate encounter with death. My father asked to be cremated. I dropped the urn of his ashes over the side of his boat, on the lake that he loved, where he had his final stroke.

When someone dies, many people die.

It wasn’t just my biological father who passed away.

The man who told terrible jokes passed away. And the man who listened to my struggles passed away.

The man who helped me out when I was in need passed away. And the man who told me to get my act together passed away.

The man who showed me what a lost temper looks like passed away. And the man who was happily married for 64 years passed away.

When I heard the news that my father died, the world stopped. Food had no taste. People spoke but I couldn’t hear the words.

Then I started saying Kaddish. My first encounter with Kaddish.

There are many beautiful explanations for Kaddish. Shlomo Carlebach said that it is a letter sent from the heavens by the deceased to the mourner – conveying that everything is great and holy. Yitgadel v’yitkadash.

For me – Kaddish was a lonely cry, a scream in the middle or end of davenning.

Usually there is great decorum in synagogue. Prayer is scripted and orderly.

For me – Kaddish was an outburst. Shrieking to everyone around me – “I’m broken. Don’t think that because it seems like I am functioning that I am really okay. I’m not.”

For me – Kaddish was a ‘mi she’beirach’ (prayer for the sick) for myself, announcing to everyone – I am in need of healing.

Now, at the end of my year of mourning, after 11 months of Kaddish, I am ready to move on. Barely.

This Erev Rosh HaShana, the completion of my year of mourning, I will be thinking – Life goes on.

Even with the brokenness. Even with the passing of the many faces of my father, life goes on.

That is the greatest comfort of all.










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Aryeh BenDavid Aryeh Ben David grew up outside of NYC, studied psychology at Vassar College, received rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate and now lives in Efrat, Israel with his wife Sandra and their six children. Aryeh founded Ayeka, Center for Soulful Education, in 2006, after almost 20 years of work in formal and experiential Jewish educational settings. Ayeka seeks to provide educators with the language and tools for creating personal and meaningful connection. Aryeh has been involved in the training of staff of countless organizations and lectures internationally.

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