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Saying Kaddish forever

January 7, 2012

The other day was the Tenth of Tevet, a minor fast-day which serves, among other purposes, as the day on which one says Kaddish for someone whose date of death is unknown. After the Shoah the day took on the role of commemoration for the Shoah for the religious communities. The secular camp, not having any interest in saying Kaddish, insisted on a separate day to be dedicated exclusively to the Shoah and not shared with other events; after a period of political horse-trading in the early 1950s, the 8th day before Independance day was chosen, which has worked out fine. Some of the Haredim don’t commemorate the Zionist invention, and effectively none of the secular Israelis even know about the Tenth of Tevet; stuck in the middle are the Modern Orthodox, who commemorate Yom Hashoah along with most everyone else in April or May, and also the Tenth of Tevet along with the Haredim, in the middle of winter.

Makor Rishon, the highbrow newspaper of the settlers, and thus sort of the tribal paper of (some of) the Modern Orthodox, had the following story in its weekend edition (no English version – my translation) about a man who has been saying Kaddish three times a day for more than 65 years. Normally one says Kaddish for 11 months after the death of a parent, and less for other family members, though the Rav Soloveitchik famously said Kaddish for five years after the death of his wife.

When cajoled by his fellow cogregants to explain, the man, who apparently lives in Israel’s north but is not identified by name, started by reminding them that he was a Holocaust survivor:

I was about 18 at the end of the war, and when I saw what had happened to my family and friends, I decided to start saying Kaddish. The first year was for my father; the second for my mother, the third for my brother, the fourth for my sister, then I went on to say Kaddish for my grandfather, both grandmothers, and so on for the rest of the family. Saying Kaddish for my family took about twenty years, and then I said to myself “enough, you can stop now”.

But then, just as Iwas about to stop, the image of a childhood friend rose before me, and seemed to be pleading for a year of Kaddish. So I went on for one more year. At the end, when I was about to stop, I remembered the old man who died next to me in the barrack, and since I was pretty sure no-one had said Kaddish for him, I added another year. And so it went. Each year when I was about to stop saying Kaddish, the image of another person would appear before me, sometime in a dream, sometimes when I was awake: kids I had played with, people I had seen die in the camps, distant relatives. Each one of them pleaded for their year of Kaddish, which they had been deprived of.

And so it has been 65 years already, and how many people have I managed? 65, that’s all. Almost nothing – a few bunks in the barracks, that’s all. I’m more than 80 years old, I don’t know how many years I have left, and there are so many people who remain to have Kaddish said for them..

3 Comments leave one →
  1. David E. Sigeti permalink
    January 13, 2012 8:56 am

    Yaacov, could you provide a link to the article (not just the paper)? I am guessing that the Hebrew is simple enough for me to use as practice. (At this point, Haaretz is nearly impossible, Yediot Aharonot is sometimes simple enough, sometimes not.)

  2. Jewess permalink
    January 29, 2012 1:26 pm

    I have seen this date on Jewish calendars and never looked up the significance of the fast day. After reading this post, I learned that Israel attached Shoah remembrence to this date that originally marked the onset of the siege of Jerusalem that led to the Babylonian exile and learned more about rabbinic policy concerning sad commemorations.

    I will observe the fast next year.

  3. February 8, 2012 8:52 pm

    This is a very touching story. Thank you for sharing it.

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