My year of living kaddish

December 19, 2007 at 9:01 pm Leave a comment

Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death – at least according to the Jewish calendar. My father died December 31, 2006 corresponding with the 10th of Tevet. Ari Goldman, former reporter for the New York Times and now assistant dean of at the Columbia School of Journalism, wrote a book called Living a Year of Kaddish: A Memoir. I read his book shortly after my father died and wrote the following to Goldman, January 14, 2007:

Professor Goldman,

My father died two weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. I’ve thought of reading your book for ages – and finally picked it up this afternoon while back at my parent’s house to help my mother. I ended up reading it in one sitting. Thank you for reminding me why I’m saying kaddish! Kol ha kavod.

His reply the next day:

Dear Rabbi Spiegel,

I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your father. I am glad to hear that my book was something of a comfort. This is such a difficult time and having a prayer like kaddish is a great companion. I hope sweet memories of your father together with the love of family and friends will help sustain you.



So began my year of living kaddish.

My year has been very different from Goldman’s, and yet not so different. The mechanics of our observance is different – he is Orthodox and felt required to say kaddish three times daily. My liberal tradition says once a day is enough. Goldman talks in the book about frantic searches to find a minyan three times a day. I was not so panicked, partly because I was able to stay home during most of the year and when I did travel, I was able to arrange to find a synagogue beforehand. I’m both surprised and a bit amazed to say I made a minyan once a day almost every day for the whole year.

At first it was a daunting task and I admit I did it as much out of a sense of obligation as any other reason. Truth be told, it is an obligation for an oldest son to say kaddish for a parent, at least in a halachic sense. But modern sensibilities permeate the Jewish world and most American Jews might say kaddish through shiva (7 days), maybe some even through sh’loshim (30 days). I felt the need to do the ‘whole magillah.’ And it was not easy.

There was many a day I just couldn’t imagine doing this for a year. The precept that got me through is the 12-Step notion of one day at a time. I didn’t have to worry about doing it tomorrow, only today. And so, my days took on the routine of leaving the office just after 5pm to make mincha at 5:45pm. And the year passed.

Today I will lead mincha and ma’ariv and say kaddish for the last time as a part of the formal mourning period. Did it help? Absolutely. While I wasn’t able to focus on my grief and memories every day, in retrospect, I did for most of the days. Having stopped the daily trip to synagogue after 11 months, I’ve already re-adapted my routine. Funny, I don’t have any extra time in my life – it’s just filled with other things. As I think about today’s last kaddish I’m almost melancholy and my emotions are mixed. I miss my dad, and this is the last piece of letting go. Zichronah livrachah, his memory is a blessing.

Marvin H. Spiegel, z”l
May 15, 1929 – December 31, 2007
5 Iyyar, 5689 – 10 Tevet, 5768

original eulogy at

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