Chanting Kaddish: Do the words or ritual provide the solace?

Saying the mourner’s Kaddish during my brother’s yahrzeit, which I will do tonight at temple, usually tears me up. It is not so much the words that stir me; rather, it is the ritual. The prayer asks us to praise God, honor him, extol him, glorify him, and finally to wish that God will bring peace on us and all of Israel. There are no direct words of comfort, no pearls of wisdom designed to help us heal from loss.

Yet, there is something comforting because of the way we are to say Kaddish. We are supposed to say it in the company of others on the anniversary of our loved one’s death. At my temple, the rabbi calls out the names of the deceased on the temple’s yahrzeit list, and asks mourners to stand when they hear the name of their loved one. He asks if anyone else is there to mark a yahrzeit, and they too stand. And then, everyone in the sanctuary rises in solidarity.

Some mourners I stand with tonight may have lost someone a year ago. Some may be remembering a death from decades ago. And a few may be newly bereaved. We are all mourners. We are all Jews. We belong to the same community.

I can go about my daily life for weeks or months without saying my brother Kevin’s name or hearing it. Hearing my brother’s name once a year in temple brings both comfort and sorrow. I love that someone else is acknowledging that yes, on this earth, a young man named Kevin Lee Wertheimer once walked, skied, laughed, and loved. But I still cannot help but be sad that my brother, who I loved so, is no longer here. He died long before I married, long before I had a son.

I write these words about the Kaddish with confidence now, but it took me decades to feel a part of the Jewish community and to realize that the act of saying Kaddish can be a salve.

I used to stumble over the pronunciation of the Kaddish. The Hebrew finally began to flow more easily after I studied for my adult bat mitzvah in 2006. The cadence of the prayer is familiar and in a way, a solace.

The Kaddish may seem to make only broad utterances, but it is a powerful prayer. Author Anita Diamant says it eloquently in her 1998 book, Saying Kaddish, when she writes:
In words and through practice, Kaddish insists that the mourner turn away from death and choose life.

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *