Sept. 22, 2006
Connecting to their memory
Tradition of saying Kaddish keeps chain unbroken; mends hearts.
KATHARINE HAMER EDITOR
There is no more appropriate time of year for us to be looking
inward; to consider our own complex and wonderful relationship to
loved ones and to God.
Ari L. Goldman's father Marvin died in September 1999 in
the midst of the High Holy Days, on the eve of the millennium
and the day after his son's 50th birthday. "I was no longer
the child of divorce," muses Goldman in the opening to Living
a Year of Kaddish, "I was no longer a child of anyone."
Family ties both whole and fractured are at the heart of this beautifully
written memoir, in which Goldman a former reporter at the
New York Times and professor of journalism at Columbia University
documents the process of saying Kaddish for his father for
an entire year. He notes that his parents had separated when he
was only a boy and that he rarely saw his father growing up, except
for odd weekends and Jewish holidays. Later, his father remarried
and moved to Jerusalem, the city Goldman saw him in only a month
before he died. He recalls how settled his father seemed in the
holy city, with his daily routine of Torah study and gentle walks.
Despite being put up in the Jerusalem Hilton, he realizes how important
it is for him to spend a final night under his father's roof
a decision that will resonate all too soon. "I hugged my dad,
inhaled his musty morning smell, and kissed his stubbled cheek,"
he notes. It is the last time he will see his father.
Goldman was raised and remains Orthodox and he carefully
adheres to the movement's tenets despite struggling with some of
its more stringent dictates (for instance, having to sit apart from
his daughter in shul after her bat mitzvah). He writes, "I'd
rather be the bad boy of Orthodoxy, I figured, than the tzaddik
[righteous person] of Conservative Judaism." He finds comfort
in praying with other men, and is conscious of the need to attend
daily minyan. Saying Kaddish, he observes, is part of a long tradition
a chain of connection from generation to generation of Jews.
Much of this book, which is divided into seasons, is about the struggle
to maintain a certain level of observance, with all the disruptions
of life that get in the way. It's about the journey Goldman takes
along the way, finding enough men for a minyan not only in his own
synagogue in New York, but also to say Kaddish in Jerusalem, in
Chicago, in Paris and at a summer camp in the countryside. Each
is a different type of experience, and what he learns is communion:
with his fellow human beings, with God, with the memory of his parents.
What emerges, ultimately, from the process is a renewal of faith,
a deep appreciation of loved ones and a heartfelt level of self-awareness.