Last evening I attended the shivah of a long-time congregation member. Along with the usual prayers, including the Mourner’s Kaddish, several people recalled the unique and valuable ways our departed friend had touched their lives. Pathos intertwined with humor, and I was left with a deep appreciation for Judaism’s wise and compassionate rituals.
Then a friend sat down beside me and said, “Where do we go from here?”
“What do you mean?”, I asked
“Everyone is eating and chatting, laughing even. We were just focused on him, all of us together, in a much different mood, praying and all. Where do we go from here?”
It was hard to get a real sense of his question, sitting as we were in the midst of buzzing conversation. But I was determined to connect with him, with his pain, in a meaningful way.
“Well, we join the community in reciting Kaddish for him for the next eleven months.”
But he was in no way consoled by my response. Confusion and hurt gushed from him in what seemed an unstoppable flood, until I heard him sigh, “I am filled with such overwhelming melancholy.”
Unfortunately, we were interrupted as someone posed a question to him about baseball, and then I was informed that the woman I had asked for a ride home was leaving.
I never had the chance to finish my answer.
Our friend has died. Where do we go from here?
We go on living. In honor to him, and in honor to ourselves—we go on living.
We embrace one another in community, feel the warmth and uncertainty evident in human existence, and we go on living.
And as a community, we affirm Divinity in our midst by reciting Kaddish with him in mind. We strengthen and draw strength from one another as we lean upon the ancient words, feel their rhythmic sway in our mouths and our being, feel the ground beneath our feet steadfast and strong as our people through the ages despite pain and pogrom—
And we go on living.