I commented to a friend the other day that I feel like an expectant mother – I
keep telling people I’ve entered my ninth month. But this is a totally different
type of ninth month. It is the ninth month of “aveilut,” the 12-month period of
mourning for my father.
This mourning period began just before Israel’s
Independence Day, lasted through the summer, stretched through the season of
repentance culminating with the most meaningful and emotional Yom Kippur of my
life, and now continues into the stormy days of winter that have gripped
It has taken this long to put the thoughts on paper, thoughts
that have evolved, grown and molded my life as I ponder the final few months of
this year that has been like none before it.
It has been a year that has
underlined the dichotomy of physical alongside spiritual.
The physical is
the draining process of saying Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, each morning,
afternoon and evening, being encouraged to lead the services in the synagogue,
and then trying to accomplish the impossible task of leading the prayers at a
pace that suits the different synagogues and even those praying in the same
On the other hand, the Kaddish – notwithstanding all that
has been written about what it says and what it really means – is a spiritual
moment that you feel within, a personal moment in the public setting of
synagogue prayer. I think of my father, of the long and happy life he
I think of when he was saying Kaddish for his parents during his
years of aveilut, and each year on the anniversary of their passing.
think of him as we mark each holiday and other special occasion in the country
or as a family.
The year of mourning has meant learning a new aspect of
Judaism, mostly filled with customs which represent the personal nature of how
each one of us feels going through this unique experience. Though religious all
my life, I have entered into a new sphere that thankfully I have never
experienced before, having to read up and ask questions as though I was taking
up religious observance for the first time.
It has been a bittersweet
experience of being one of many people in my community going through aveilut for
a parent this year. Call it a support group. Some call it a “Kaddish Club.” You
share your experiences and your feelings, and talk about the inability to attend
parties and concerts.
Sometimes you just pat each other on the back, and
say: “Hang in there.” I also appreciate the “shoulder” and advice from Kaddish
Club alumni who have told me of their past experiences, and voiced complete
understanding for various ordeals and tumultuous feelings that I
The physical-spiritual dichotomy carries over into your
professional life. My job is being a journalist who covers the Israeli
experience, in particular Israeli politics. My father would often ask me to
analyze the various dramas, crises, scandals and other political events that
have marked Israeli history as I covered them over the past few decades.
Frequently, he voiced his own feelings about what was going
Therefore, it is no surprise that I often think now of what he would
be saying as I report on the various events, and interview the newsmakers. Just
after I finished sitting shiva in April, the Knesset opened its summer term, and
I watched as Finance Minister Yair Lapid addressed the House, facing constant
heckling from other MKs. He would later announce that he would no longer speak
in the plenum because of the verbal abuse. I sat there thinking to myself, “What
children!” It was a bizarre experience.
I was still in an emotional
tailspin, and the Knesset brought me crashing down to earth. It makes you start
thinking about the vast gaps between what is really important in life and what
isn’t, and how we can really sound childish if we don’t put things into
Having said that, it also brought back the memory of how
Kaddish can bring people together, even in the Knesset. The Israeli parliament
has its own synagogue, and it was one of those behind-the-scene moments, when I
watched, during the last Knesset, then-Kadima Knesset Member Dr. Nachman
Shai and then-National Union MK Uri Ariel saying Kaddish together at the Mincha
afternoon service, standing alongside each other, reciting it together. Even if
their Knesset factions and ideologies were not in sync, their Kaddish
The power of unity in the Kaddish has also been evident to me as I
have found the various minyan factories around Jerusalem and elsewhere. I am of
Ashkenazi background, and many of these synagogues tend to pray more often
according to the Sephardi custom. Sometimes, I have sheepishly asked if I could
lead the service despite my different version of the service.
have been greeted with an “of course” from the other congregants.
times, I have been told that I could lead the service if I “said every word.” I
felt that I had received the ultimate compliment when once, after the prayer, an
elderly Sephardi man told me that I – an Ashkenazi person with an American
accent – had nevertheless recited the service very clearly.
ultimate feeling of unity was when I led the Mincha service once at a well-known
synagogue near Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem, reciting the “Amidah” according to
the Ashkenazi custom, but also adding sections of the service that only
Sephardim say, and saying the Kaddish in two different places, to suit both
And when I finished, I received a handshake from a smiling
Sephardi man, the one who had been saying Kaddish together with me. I felt that
it was truly a handshake of unity, that would have made my father proud, and
which symbolized in its own small way, why this has been a year like none
The author is a political correspondent and managing editor at
Israel Radio’s English News in Jerusalem.