Last night was the kickoff event for this summer’s fellows at Yeshivat Hadar. It was a great event, with some wonderful study sessions and warm welcomes from a number of rabbis and guests. At the end of the event we davened Maariv, and though there were well over a hundred guests from a variety of age brackets, I happened to be the only person saying Kaddish.
This happens more rarely than I would expect. In the morning I tend to daven Shacharit at a Conservative shul where more than half of the crowd is in avelut. For mincha and maariv I’m usually at Orthodox shuls with a decent sized crowd, and at least a handful of guys saying Kaddish. But on Shabbat at Kehilat Hadar, and last night, and the yeshiva’s inauguration, it’s just me.
There is something terrifying and horribly sad about this. It is an inescapable moment of declaring my grief to a room full of people, many of them strangers. Though I’ve come to have a grim familiarity with my misery this year, rarely do I feel the words of Kaddish really move me. Their meaning is infamously not about death or bereavement, and the Aramaic, though familiar to me in some ways, still sets up a barrier between my recitation and a true internalization of what I’m saying. But when I am speaking alone, the words loom huge and intimidating before me. The responsibility seems heavier, more poignant, when there’s no one else around in similar straits.
It is at moments like this that I miss my mother the most. She had many talents, but making people feel less alone, whether that was through welcoming people into our home, visiting the sick, or generally reaching out to people she knew were having a hard time, was an area where she was noticeably effective and strong. Walking home last night I thought about how much I wished I could call her and tell her how hard this year of saying Kaddish has been, and how disappointed I’ve been in my own traditions.
In a way, it’s good to have these startling and solitary Kaddish experiences every once and a while, because they infuse the experience with a meaning that I often feel is missing. But then, when those moments arrive it is shockingly overwhelming. One moment I’m fine, and the next I’m drowning in this feeling of being totally alone and set apart from a room full of people.