Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Travelling & Kaddish

I’m in Israel. I’m here on a MERCAZ Olami retreat. It was the next step in my slowly re-entering the world. It’s not so easy. I really wasn’t ready to leave. Normally I am totally organized. I have a packing list, and I pack early. Yet there I was, hours before I had to leave, trying to get organized in between bouts of crying. I thought I was past spontaneous crying, but clearly not.

“It’s too soon.” That’s how I felt. Too soon to travel. Too soon to be away from the comfort of my family. Too soon not to hug my children every night. Keren tearfully said, “Eema don’t go.” But I had no choice.

The benefit of being scattered was the focus of a lack of time. Rushing from house to car to check in to the gate. On to the plane. Finally breathe. Oh wait, no. There was work to do. I had teaching to finish. So the plane ride, with some sleep, was focused on fleshing out my teaching, having emailed the texts only minutes before leaving.

Of course there’s the Kaddish issue. While there will be a minyan on the plane, reciting Kaddish with that crowd simply wasn’t an option. I debated reciting Kaddish, counting the Jews on the plane without their consent.  Instead I recited El Malei Rachamim for my father, davenning as if I wasn’t surrounded by Jews. And again in the morning, part of me feeling antagonistic and wondering just how much shit I would stir up if I were to stand and don my tallit and tefillin. I was saved by some turbulence and a descent, I’d slept too long. Barely time to pray. Another El Malei. Tallit and tefillin back at the house.

A mere 9 1/2 hours later we were descending. Tears again came into my eyes. Of course I always cry when I land in Israel. I wondered, is this my normal crying or something more? Brucha haba’ah. Welcome to Israel. Wait in line a mob for over an hour to get through customs. To My cousins' for Shabbat. Thank God I have a home here to go to. It’s a comfort to have someplace familiar, but I still wondered about Kaddish. The shul is Orthodox, and though I’d been there dozens of times, I couldn’t remember ever hearing a woman recite Kaddish.

I showered and dressed for Shabbat, and made my way up the hill for Mincha and Kaddish. In the balcony I said the words I say every day, and NO ONE ANSWERED! Not a single woman standing around me answered with “Amen.” Again for Ma’ariv, for Shacharit, for Musaf, for Mincha.... No one answered. At Mincha on Shabbat I arrived early and found myself in a tsofim (scouts) minyan. Unlike the regular t’fillot, few girls upstairs davenned. They gossipped. They giggled. They walked in and out. And then, they stopped. They looked. Did they listen? Maybe. But still no one answered. What a comfort to get to the Conservative Yeshiva on Sunday to be surrounded by others who, while mostly strangers to me, supported my recitation of Kaddish, standing quietly with me and saying “Amen” strongly and clearly. At these minyanim I am supported in my recitation. With my colleagues from MERCAZ Olami, I feel bolstered by their presence. I cannot express how thankful I am to this group for their spiritual embrace, thankful for their presence.

At the Knesset Monday my father is in my heart and my mind. Daddy instilled in me my love of Israel and my belief in democracy. I sit listening to the MKs who come to speak to and with us. I am privileged to ask a question of MK Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset, and I credit my father’s lessons in my words asking about parity in funding for religious services. Mr. Edelstein is not receptive. To me he seems in denial, believing nothing has gotten worse at the Kotel. He’s wrong. I have photographic proof and personal experience.

From the Knesset to the Kotel, where I davenned Mincha as the shatz, breaking down during Kaddish Yatom, tears streaming, my voice cracking. I was enveloped by the warmth of my community. Hugs. Someone who knew my dad telling me how proud he would have been.

Today is a day of celebration. Tu B’Shevat and the 40th anniversary of the Masorti Movement in Israel. We have spent a day in learning, sharing ideas and passions. Another experience of Kaddish here with hundreds of Jews around me, reciting with a couple of others and the great crowd answering.

Each minyan, each experience is so unique.

Tu B’Shevat sameach.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Year in Mourning- Tears Return

Emotions are messy. You get into a routine, and you think, “I’m handling this. I’m doing okay.” Then, 45 steps backward. That was today (technically yesterday, as it’s 1:06 am).

I actually got to sleep at a somewhat reasonable time Tuesday night, so I woke before my alarm. Still, I can’t shake this amazing sense of fatigue that comes over me each day. Sometimes in the morning, just an hour or so after I wake up. Mostly in the afternoon while transitioning from work to home.

Today was a morning day. I was overcome just as we were leaving the house. The in minyan a new face, a friend who just got up from shiva. He too is dropping off a child at school , and coming to the well-timed Beth Emeth minyan, not his regular shul, for morning Kaddish. During t’fillot I thought about my upcoming trip to Israel for 9 days. There still so much to do, and more that simply won’t get done. At work I got the news of another friend whose mother-in-law died today. She lost her husband already, and had a special relationship with her mother-in-law. I’ll miss the shiva because of my trip. I really just want to sit with her, and hold her hand.

I visited with a friend this afternoon. It’s her mother’s yahrtzeit.

My daughter doesn’t want to to go. It’s too soon. She’s right. It is. I know by the waves of tears that returned today. But I have a conference, and the world doesn’t stop because I’m in mourning. It doesn’t stop just because part of my world did. No, it keeps spinning, tearing open the wound afresh. But each time the hole is a little smaller. It scabs over a little faster.

So tomorrow I’ll board a plane to Israel. I expect I’ll cry a lot. In the airport. On the plane. In Israel. At my cousins’ home. And so many other places. But it’ll be okay because it has to be.

My daughter said, “Papa would say, ‘Stop moping.’” “I’m not moping Daddy. I’m just sad.”

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Year in Mourning - Minyan Buddies

A month plus into my year of mourning and it turns out that I am in demand. Beth Emeth has become my regular morning minyan. It has a convenient 8:15 minyan, which coincides with drop-off at CHAT.  When I leave on Thursday with a “Shabbat shalom,” the response is “Aren’t we seeing you tomorrow?” A few evenings I’m there as well. Outside of Pride, it’s the closest shul. Last week one of the regulars, whose father died about  10 days after mine, officially introduced himself. “After all, we’re going to be minyan buddies.” I knew who he was, and he knew who I was, but we hadn’t been formally introduced. There I’m just one of the guys, just another davenner. But I’m also a rabbi. I find myself fielding individual halakhic questions. While the BEBY rabbis are busy, I get questioned by people looking to learn the hows and whys of mourning or t’fillah customs and mitzvot. It’s just comfortable, with no pressure. People sponsoring breakfast ask me specifically to stay. “I’m sponsoring on Monday. Please join us for breakfast.”

Meanwhile, the few times I davenned at Beth David there was a clear expectation I’d join them for the year. “But you count here.” Yes I do. But it’s also further away. It means getting kids (and me) out the door 30 minutes earlier, something that’s never going to happen. No, I can’t get an aliyah at BEBY, but in the morning the extra sleep combined with the welcome I get is definitely worth it.

Then there’re evenings. I really prefer Mincha/Maariv. A psalm with Kaddish in lieu of the Mincha Kaddish doesn’t quite work for me, but heading to a Mincha/Maariv minyan doesn’t quite work for my family. So off to Pride I go at 6:30. We’re adjusted for this in our daily schedule since Sean goes regularly. Two parents attending two separate evening minyanim would mean we’re never together. 

But no matter where I go, I’ve come to expect  and be expected by the regulars, my minyan buddies for the next 10 months. Together we journey.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Year of Mourning- The New Normal

Toronto is a great city in which to be Jewish. It's a unique place where it's still relatively easy to be Jewish, observant or not, wherever you are on the spectrum. I have a plethora of Conservative synagogues from which to choose.

As we venture back into real life schedules (although kids don't go back to school until next week), the multitude of minyanim allows me to fit them to my schedule. Tuesday 7:30 am Shacharit at Pride of Israel with 4:45 pm Mincha/Maariv at Beth Emeth to be followed by Wednesday morning 8:00 am at Beth David. we'll see where I end up for the afternoon.

Through all this I realize there are many people who still don't know my father died, and more that do be I have not yet seen. Each new (though not really new) place I attend minyan, each person I see for the first time brings all the feelings to the surface. Does this have a finite end? Does it stop when I've davenned at all the Conservative synagogues in the GTA, or does it continue when I'm elsewhere in Canada, in the US, or in Israel? Here it's hard to be just a person attending minyan. Sometimes I just want to find a corner in the room and pray privately. This is the value of a regular minyan, where you are known, but left alone if you want.

I've spoken with many who share the experience of mourning. You can't know it until you've been there. I knew this before, but am willing to admit I didn't fully know it. Back at my desk I am distracted. Getting work done, but something is off. I am lucky. I work for two wonderful organizations with understanding leadership. It makes getting back to work easier (and doesn't hurt that the only other person in my office is a very close friend). I hear from many of the difficulties of going back into the world. Outsiders don't get it. People don't understand why you're not "fine" when you come back to work. It's even worse for those who don't observe shiva or shloshim. When do they truly mourn?

We marked the shloshim at shul on Shabbat, the kids braving the cold on a day they'd rather have been hibernating. We provided kiddush, Sean opting for parve over meat. (A successful choice by the looks of what everyone ate.) We left it to late to be in the Shabbat bulletin, but that didn't matter. It's not about the publicity; it's about the personal. I read haftarah. Comfortable and yet uncomfortable, like so much else.

Shloshim ended, but in mourning for a parent not much changes. There is still the rest of the year.  Some restrictions will remain, others less so. I believe in practical Judaism, a Judaism that is adaptive and responsive. Our traditions have created loopholes which allow us to say, "How can we do that," rather than simply saying no. It's about finding ways to live positively rather than restrictively. It means my daughter has new shirts she's wearing that she'll give to me so I have appropriate clothes with short sleeves for my tefillin. I bought a new coat. I didn't have one. I gave mine away last year. The day my father died was the day I planned on shopping. It's been dangerously cold. The law about not buying new clothes was created at a time when new clothes were a special occasion, not things you could purchase in the supermarket. True necessity takes precedence, as does the safety of being properly attired for the weather. Haircuts were Sunday, but not for me. I have a year with no reason beyond vanity to do so. There will be no live entertainment, but I have no problem with movies. I wasn't ready during shloshim, but feel it's okay now. Still, I don't seem to like music. I drive without the radio, unusual for me. Time is clearly needed.

A special shoutout to Joe and Tiara Catering for gifting us the (very delicious) food for my father's shloshim even beyond what we'd ordered. (And not mentioning anything until Sean tried to pay afterward.) You have been a supportive friend since our arrival at the Pride of Israel. Thank you.