The Cadence of Kaddish

I have been wanting to write about saying Kaddish for months now, but I always felt like I needed to tell a grand story, to find some way to encapsulate all the emotions and experiences in one cohesive post – and that was too daunting a task. However, this weekend, I had the honor of hearing four women speak who wrote about their experiences for Kaddish: Women’s Voices in addition to the co-editors, and I realized that vignettes are just as important and powerful. So I’d like to share just a few of the moments which stick out in my head the most, on both a personal and communal level.

Early on, I realized my Kaddish had a specific cadence, and that while I tried to match it to the other mourners, it always came out in this very specific way. After some reflection, I placed it – it was my grandfather’s cadence. I grew up sitting next to him in shul and listening to him say Kaddish “for the people who have no one to say it for them” on a consistent basis, and it must have imprinted in my mind.

I love that long after his death, I continue to find ways in which he continues to shape my life.

One Erev Shabat, I was at a shul that was not our regular place and the women’s section is a balcony. As mincha (the afternoon service) was ending, the man who was leading the tefilla (prayers) paused and looked around to see if anyone was saying Kaddish. When no man spoke the starting words, he moved on quickly and finished the tefillot with it being uttered at all. So while my husband who often said Kaddish for me in the days when I couldn’t make it to services myself (five weeks of modified bedrest and a newborn were a bit of a hindrance to that), could have said it for me so that it would be heard, he didn’t even realize until it was too late.

Another Erev Shabbat I was staying with friends who lived in an amazing yishuv in Gush Etzion. I had been told it would be ok for me to say Kaddish, but found myself standing in a community member’s kitchen, removed from the main tefilla in their living room by a wall, and unsure if I’d be heard when the time came. There were again no male mourners saying kaddish, but rather than skip it the leader just said it quickly himself and I said it along with him from my side of the wall. (Though it didn’t feel nice to me to say Kaddish so quickly, I was able to do so.) I noticed he slowed down the next few times and wondered if a man had joined him I couldn’t hear.

After davening, our host mentioned that a mutual friend had told the man leading to slow down because a woman was also there saying Kaddish. I never asked if he knew it was me, or he could just hear a voice – but either way, it was a simple act that was greatly appreciated. And as we walked up the hill, the leader approached us, asked me a few questions, and apologized for not noticing me. Another simple act that was greatly appreciated.

Not saying Kaddish the last month was extremely hard. And it sometimes continues to be. It gave me a concrete space and action to be present with my mourning and my loss, and for both my husband and I to reflect on my amazing mommie. There are still times that I start to say it and have to catch myself – this is no longer my ritual, no longer my place and space.

Without a doubt the most profound Kaddish experience, is this one.

Post by Melissa - Photo Copyright Yitz Woolf

Post by Melissa – Photo Copyright Yitz Woolf

Saying Kaddish for my mother, with the cadence of her father, at the brit of my son who was named for both of them.`




4 thoughts on “The Cadence of Kaddish

  1. I also noticed that when I say kaddish (*when* we have a minyan) it has a particular flow and accents to it. Unlike so many people who drone it. I realized that there are parts or phrases that I accent or modulate my voice/volume because of what it means, and what I know I am saying, and what I want to say. Kaddish is a tremendously powerful opportunity and privilege.

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