August 29, 2014 – 3 Elul 5774

I am quite sure that I have discovered one of the Satan’s most potent weapons to keep me from saying kaddish – flight delays! Allow me to explain. We were to leave Israel Monday on a 10:40 am flight. Late Sunday, via email, we were informed that the flight departure was delayed to 2 pm. That was ok as it gave a few extra hours to enjoy Jerusalem while still giving me plenty of time to find a maariv minyan in New York.

Monday I woke up early and attended the 6 am shachris minyan at Yeshurun. So far so good. We left for the airport at 10:30 am, got through security etc. in no time, and planted ourselves in the King David Club. I asked at the Chabad tefilin outpost what time the mincha minyan would be held and they told me 1:15pm. Perfect. We “shmayed around” the duty free shops for a while and then went back to the club only to learn that our flight was now delayed another two hours. Maariv was now at risk.

At 1:10 I went to the airport shul and davened mincha.

We boarded the flight at 4 pm but the plane did not take off until 5 pm. We landed at JFK at 10 pm and did not get to our car until after 11 pm. Maariv with a minyan was now out of the question. Once again air travel delays did me in!

We got home at 3 am. I slept for an hour or so, helped Marilyn with the kids so they could get off for their flight to Saint Louis, and made the 7:30 am shachris minyan at YISE. Our amazing and inspirational visit to Israel with Moshe and Adina was now officially over. I was back to saying kaddish in galus.

August 27, 2014 – 1 Elul 5774

I began writing this post during our El Al return flight to JFK. The flight, which was originally scheduled for a 10:40 am departure, was rescheduled to 2 pm and then delayed again at the airport two more hours. The rescheduled departure gave us a few more hours in Jerusalem, an unexpected gift which enabled Marilyn and me to enjoy a quiet coffee on the Ben Yehuda midrachov (outside mall) before leaving for Ben Gurion.

Since our return to Jerusalem from three days of touring the north, I concluded my Israel minyanim uneventfully. Friday shachris I walked to the Old City to the Hurva synagogue one last time. After davening, camera in hand, I went up into the ezras nashim (women’s section) to shoot some photographs. Of all the Israeli shuls in which I davened this trip, the Hurva stood out both in terms of the quiet seriousness of the davening and the magnificent beauty of the shul itself. It is a place where, for me at least, the physical enhanced the spiritual.

After davening I took the kids to Machne Yehuda to see how Jerusalemites get ready for Shabbos. They really enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the market – especially when I took them to the candy store to stock up on Israeli candy. And stock up they did!

From there we took the light rail to Shaar Yaffo where we met Marilyn and returned to the Old City for some shopping. There is a store in the Old City, Rivkah’s, where we have shopped for years. The owner was pleased to see us and after making some purchases he took me and Moshe to the Ramban shul to daven mincha. In years past I have davened shachris in the Ramban at the 7am minyan where Rav Nebentzhal, Chief Rabbi of the Old City, attends that minyan daily. This trip this Friday mincha was my first time at the Ramban. It was an efficient minyan attended, as it turned out, by many Americans.

I left it up to Moshe to decide where we would daven Friday night Kabbolos Shabbos. He wanted to return to the Kotel and daven at a minyan (non- Chassidic) of his choice. As the Shabbos siren sounded, we enjoyed a pleasant walk down Yaffo Street to the Old City, thru the Rova (the Jewish quarter) down the steps on last time and onto the packed Kotel plaza which reflected the diversity of the Jewish people – Ashkenazic and Sephardic, Chassidic and Yeshivish, Charadi and Chardalnicks, religious and non-religious, residents and tourists – and of course, especially special during the current times, chayalim (soldiers) in uniform – siddur in hand and M-16 draped over a shoulder. Moshe selected an American minyan next to a Yeshivish Carlebach minyan. The inevitable mixture of sound and nussach added to the unique experience of welcoming the Shabbos at the Kotel. The davening was punctuated by sounds of a nearby minyan which included many chayalim and which began with intense singing and dancing exemplifying the spirit of these young warriors as well as the intense love and respect which the these young defenders of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel both deserve and enjoy.

Shabbos morning we went to the 8am minyan at the Yeshurun Central Synagogue on King George Street. The shul’s physical beauty lies in its dignified simplicity and the davening reminds me of my youth at the Queens Jewish Center; nussach Ashkenaz, a professional Chazzen, no choir and a religious Zionist congregation. It was Shabbos mevarchim Elul and the Chazzen’s nussach was an especially appropriate beginning to the period of teshuva.

Interestingly, while there was large number of attendees, there were only a few saying kaddish. Indeed, much to my surprise throughout our stay in Israel, I found, again and again, that in virtually every minyan I attended I was often the only aveal.

At alaenu someone came up to me and asked if the person standing with him could recite the kaddish together with me. We looked at each other and virtually at the same time asked from where we knew each other. We soon determined that it was from the shul in Columbus. The familiar looking gentleman was none other than Rabbi Ackerman, the rabbi in the shul in which I had recently davened in Columbus.

After davening I walked the two blocks down King George to the Great Synagogue to see if I could catch a part of the davening of the world famous Chazzan Adler. Unfortunately, the services were concluding and I will have to try again on my next visit to Jerusalem. We returned to Yeshurun for mincha and davened maariv in the Jerusalem Plaza hotel where said good-by to Marilyn’s parents who were returning to New York after Shabbos.

Sunday was our last full day in Israel and we planned another full day of touring and education for the kids with Gershon. I davened Shachris at the 6 am minyan in Yeshurun so that we would be ready for our 7:15 am pick up by Gershon. We began the day in Efrat at Caliber 3, an anti-terror training facility that allows tourists to experience simulated training. For the kids the shooting range and krav maga training was great fun. For me the real import of the visit was meeting the people. Our instructor was a man by the name of Eitan, a former Givati brigade special forces anti-terror officer. While he clearly is an extraordinary warrior, he is even more so an extraordinarily compassionate Jew whose mission in life is the defense of the Jewish people. The entire trip to Israel was worth it just to spend time with Eitan.

From there we went to the museum at Gush Etzion. On the way we stopped at the bus stop where some two months ago Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped. The location has become a defiant memorial to these there young souls.

After the Gush we returned to Jerusalem for an emotional conclusion to our visit. We visited Har Herzel and the graves of too many holy souls who have sacrificed their lives for the return of the Jewish People to Eretz Yisrael. We paid our respects to Hannah Senesh, Yoni Netanyahu, the Dakar submarine crew and many others, well known and not so well known, including Nisim Gini, a boy of ten who died in 1948 in the defense of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Each step brought more tears to my eyes. Saying kaddish will never be the same.

August 22, 2014 – 26 Menachem Av

I write as we begin to get ready for our second Shabbos in Yerushalayim with our two oldest grandchildren Moshe and Adina. It has been a whirlwind week to say the least, in general, and from a saying kaddish point of view, as well.

Monday started off as a bit of a disaster. We were scheduled for a tour of Ir Dovid at 9:30 am so I decided to daven at the Kotel with Moshe and then go straight to Shaar Haashpot to meet the guide. Unfortunately and highly unusual for me, I overslept. We came late and waited for a minyan to form. That took longer than I would have liked and then the chazzan was clearly not under the same time pressure that I was. I ended up rushing to finish davening to make the tour. In the process I missed kaddish since, in most places in Israel, kaddish is said only at the end of the davening and I had to leave before the minyan finished. Can you imagine – missing kaddish in Jerusalem and at the Kotel no less! It was very unexpected and quite upsetting. Things, however, were about to get worse.

Just as we got to the tour assembly location Adina called to say that my wife had fallen in the Rova. Her arm was injured and she needed my assistance ASAP. To make a long story short, I put the kids on the tour and Marilyn and I went to the hospital were she was diagnosed with a broken wrist and put in a cast. Marilyn did not let the broken wrist slow her down, however, and sling and cast notwithstanding she resumed our hectic trip schedule in the afternoon.

Monday evening I tried to daven mincha near our apartment in a small shul/minyan factory on Yoel Solomon Street.

Unfortunately, I arrived as the first minyan finished and after waiting twenty minutes for another minyan to form had to leave and walk to Geula where I found another “hole in the wall” minyan factory where I davened. I then went to meet everyone for dinner. Maariv was at the Kotel after the sound and light show at Migdal Dovid.

Tuesday morning we were leaving early for a three day trip up north. I davened at a 6 am minyan at Yeshurun on King George Street. It was very efficient and taught me a lesson about reciting kaddish in Israel. Practically every minyan/shul in Israel has a different nusach and includes parishioners of different types, e.g., Ashkenaz, Sefard, Edot Hamizrach etc. When it comes to when to say and how (what nusach (version)) to say kaddish every minyan is different. Yeshurun follows a basic Ashekenaz nusach but has Spehardic Jews who daven at the minyan. When it comes to kaddish Sephardic Jews recite a different longer version of kaddish. To avoid complication, at Yeshurun those who say a non-Sephardic kaddish wait silently as various points in the kaddish to allow the Sephardim to say their additional words and phrases and then all rejoin in a joint recitation. I am now employing this approach when saying kaddish in a Sephardic minyan instead of trying to recite the Sephardic kaddish.

At 8 am our guide and friend of many years, Gershon Rechtman, picked us up to begin our three day trip to the Galil and the Golan. Our plan and hope was to give the kids not only a fun trip but more importantly an educational and emotional experience – one that would install in them a love of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel. We planned a very jammed packed three days and, of course, our plans required consideration and planning for finding minyanim wherever we would be. As luck would have it we were generally able to daven at a close-by Charadi resort on the Kinneret which although did not generally follow its announced minyan schedule did nonetheless have minyanim which we were able to make. I really lucked out when we learned that they had a Vasikin minyan at 5:30 am which enabled us to keep our “start early end late” touring schedule on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning Shachris was a challenge because we left the hotel at 4 am (yes that’s right) to travel to Afula where we were taking off at 5 am on a hot air balloon ride over the Galil. Once again Chabad was the answer. The Chabad shul in central Afula is a minyan factory. After the conclusion of our balloon ride we drove to the center of the city and davened at Chabad – all without missing a beat. The shul was interesting. Our minyan began in an outdoor venue and then moved indoors when the earlier minyan concluded. Hanging on bulletin board in the shul were plans for the third beis hamikdash!

Upon our return to Jerusalem it was back to the minyan factories. Mincha on Yoel Solomon and maariv in Geula. All in all a lot of walking!

In discussing our daily plans, Adina commented how I am “always” talking about when and where I am going to find a minyan! The life of an avael – even in Jerusalem.

Wishing all a wonderful Shabbos from the center of the universe – Yerushalayim.

August 18, 2014 –22 Menachem Av 5774

Saying kaddish has not really been any less stressful for me since we arrived in Israel. While yes, there are more places in Jerusalem to daven than anywhere else in the world, being at the right place at the right time remains a task. Take yesterday as an example. Shachris was “easy” . I went to the regular morning minyan in the beis medrash in the Great Synagogue. An 8 am minyan and a shorter walk from where we are staying than going into the Old City, I was surprised by how popular and large the minyan was. The minyan is a standard Ashkenaz minyan so I did not have to learn a new nussach – something I am never sure of here.

Mincha however was a different story. Given our evening schedule with the kids I had to find a mincha minyan between 6 and 7 pm. I remembered that there is a small shul – minyan factory – on Yoel Solomon Street, right near our apartment. I ran there only to come at the end of a minyan. I waited for the next minyan to gather only to find myself, after twenty minutes or so with no minyan forming. Since time was running out I ran to another minyan factory in Geuela where after waiting for a minyan to finish was able to get a minyan. Then I ran to meet Marilyn and the kids for dinner.

We took the kids to the Migdal Dovid sound and light show after dinner. It was really quite fantastic. Then I walked to the Kotel to find a maariv minyan. I got a Sephardic minyan and then walked back to Mamila to meet everyone.

According to my fitbit I am have been walking 10 miles a day. While not all of that is for minyan I am sure getting schar halacha (reward for walking) thanks to having to say kaddish.

August 15, 2014 -19 Menachem Av 5774

We are spending Shabbos in the center of the universe – Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). We arrived Thursday morning with our two oldest grandchildren, Moshe and Adina for a two week visit – their first. Our journey began Tuesday evening when we drove to Teaneck to accommodate my saying kaddish. I was able to make a 10:45 pm minyan at Bnai Yeshurun. In the morning I made a rather “efficient” 6:15 am minyan also at Bnai Yeshurun so that we could avoid traffic, get some food and get to the airport in time to check in. As it turned out it was a good thing that we drove up because I do not know if a flight early Wednesday morning would have been able to land in New York because of a torrential rain storm.

Our El Al flight to Israel was uneventful – except for my minyan situation. I have never liked to daven in airports and especially not on flights. I particularly do not like the “outside the bathroom” minyan on flights to Israel. Aside from the obviously less than desirable location, the minyan clearly disturbs the flight crew who I am sure are sick and tired of the chareidim insisting on davening in their work space. This time I felt as if I had no choice since I needed a minyan to say kaddish. As things turned this flight only served to increase mu distaste for airplane minyanim. Mincha was a disaster. First, I missed the “main” mincha minyan which of course was not announced. Then a number of other passengers were nice enough to assist in making another minyan for me but this minyan greatly interfered with the flight attendants. I was so uncomfortable that when I returned to my seat I questioned to myself whether I should repeat the same fiasco in order to say kaddish at maariv. As it turned out maariv was uneventful and I even was able to use my IPhone to light a siddur for an elderly chassid. Nonetheless, I have to believe that it is better to miss saying kaddish then to disturb the flight staff and non-religious passengers, make them upset and increase their dislike for religious Jews.

Once in Israel you would think that saying kaddish would be less stressful. Not really. I still need to schedule my day around minyan times. Since we arrived in Jerusalem yesterday at 7:30am I was able to run to the Kotel and catch a shachris minyan. Mincha was also at the Kotel and in the evening we took the kids to the Mechilot Hakotel, the Kotel tunnel tour, and then we made a maariv minyan at the Kotel with the Reiss family from St. Louis with whom we eat dinner and did the tour. This morning I davened shachris at the Churva Synagogue in the Old City. What a beautiful shul and what a nice minyan. I enjoyed it so much that think I will make the Churva my primary shul for shachris on this trip.

After lunch today in Mamila I peeled off to go daven mincha at the Kotel. Tonight we will take the kids to the Kotel to experience Kabbolas Shabbos there and tomorrow we will daven in the Churvah and meet up with the Reiss family again.

Kaddish stress notwithstanding there is no place in the world like Yerushalayim. Shabbat Shalom.

August 12, 2014 – 16 Menachem Av 5774

In a few short hours our trip to Israel with our two oldest grandchildren will begin. Like every day our plans revolve around saying kaddish and making sure I have a minyan. We cancelled our plans to fly up to New York early tomorrow morning because it was simply too difficult to get to a minyan. Similarly, we became concerned that upon our return I could run into a problem making a minyan for mincha/maariv. Instead, I will daven mincha today at the Washington DC Agudath Israel minyan and we will drive late this afternoon to New Jersey so I can make the 10:45 pm maariv minyan in Teaneck. Tomorrow I will find a 6:00 am shachris minyan so that we can be sure to get to JFK on time. I have already searched out shachris minyanim for our arrival in Israel on Thursday morning. Most likely I will go to the Shtiblach in Katamon where I can get a shachris minyan as late as 10:30 am.

Hopefully, stress notwithstanding it will all workout.

August 9, 2014 – 13 Menachem Av 5774

With the saying of Havdalah my focus is now on our trip to Israel this week. We are very excited to go with our two oldest grandchildren – especially during this period in Israel’s history. We are looking forward to a meaningful and inspirational trip; one in which we experience not only the beauty of the promised land but also in which we share, in some modest way, supporting those who are defending us and comforting those who have sacrificed.

On Tisha Ba’Av, Rabbi Hersh Weinreb related that when he visited the shiva house of one of the three teenagers kidnapped and murdered by Hamas, there was a sign that read:

Am hanezech lo mefached mederech arukah” – The eternal people do not fear the long road ahead.

How extraordinary – Parents, suffering unimaginable pain, loss and sorrow yet unshaken in their faith and belief in the future.

This simple statement captures so much of what we have experienced over the last several weeks. It is this spirit that we hope to experience and these inspirational people, who live with this faith deep in their hearts, with whom we hope to connect.

And in some small way isn’t this theme what kaddish is (or should) be all about; acknowledging and recalling our loss daily –yet always in the context of expressing our never ending faith in the Almighty and in the ultimate redemption.

Shavua tov.

August 8, 2014 – 11 Av 5774

On the road again…this time back to Columbus. My Columbus routine is pretty set. Go a day early; rent a car, and daven in Ahavas Shalom. Since I had a little extra time after maariv on Wednesday night, I decided to go check out the Kroger’s supermarket that houses Columbus’ only kosher market. The store is a large chain supermarket which includes a reasonably complete kosher supermarket, including fresh meat and fish and a full bakery known as Matt’s Bakery. I was pretty impressed – the store even carries a fairly decent line of chalov yisreal products. I noticed a man with a knitted yarmulke making his way thru the isles while I was checking the store out. As I was leaving the store I heard someone at the checkout call out my name. I looked up and there was a former Silver Springer Ari Bandler. He married a girl from Columbus and has lived in Columbus quite some time. When I asked him what he did he told me that he is a social worker and works for one of my son in law Dovid’s facilities!

This morning as I was leaving shul I happened to walk out with the rabbi and his teenage son whom I noticed was wearing a Redskins hat. I asked him how it came to be that he was Redskins fan and his father explained that he was from Baltimore and after the Colts left he became a Redskins fan.

So you ask why am I writing about this? Good question. Well you see when I came home tonight my daughter from St. Louis was here with her five children. I was talking with her oldest, sixteen year old Moshe, who just came home from Camp Heller where he was a counselor and I mentioned that I walked out of shul with a teenager who was wearing a Magen Av sweatshirt and a Redskins hat. “Oh”, he said, “that’s Ackerman. I sit next to him in minyan in school (MTI in St Louis)”.

Moral of the story….you always have to behave – wherever you go!

August 4, 2014 – 8 Menachem Av 5774

Whatever difficulty I normally have genuinely feeling the loss and despair of Tisha Ba’Av, this year will surely be different. The last several weeks have glaringly demonstrated the fragility of life in the diaspora and the dangers to our people in our own land.

As the events have unfolded and as so many Jewish lives have been shed by the enemies of the Jewish people, the concluding words of kaddish have become particularly poignant to me.

Yehai shlama rabba min shemaya – May abundant peace and life from heaven be bestowed – aleinu val kol Yisrael – upon us and all Israel…

Oseh shalom bimromav – May He who makes peace in the high heaven – ho yaaseh shalom – grant peace – aleinu val kol Yisrael – unto us and unto all of Israel…

How easy (and normal) it is for these words, repeated multiple times daily, to be recited with insufficient thought and feeling.

Until recently.

Now each time I recite kaddish it takes me a few moments longer. I think of the over sixty sacrifices that have been brought over the last several weeks. I think of the wounded, of the fathers and mothers, wives and children who have suffered losses of one type or another.

As Tisha Ba’Av descends upon me, I think of the circle of tzadikim (the righteous) in Gan Eden, described at the end of Taanis (a tractate in the Talmud) in which the Almighty sits in the center. Surely, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, Hy”d and the over sixty soldiers who have given their lives are sitting, at this very moment, in that circle.

And as the Gemorah describes:

“Each one points with his finger and says, ‘And it will be said on that day here is our Lord for whom have longed and who will redeem us.

This is G-d for whom we have longed. Let us rejoice and be happy in His salvation’.”

May we merit to witness that day.

August 1, 2014 – 5 Menachem Av 5774

As he was concluding his weekly parshas hashavuah (Torah study) class last night at 11:30 pm, with tears in his eyes, Rabbi Dovid Katzenstien asked:

“Do we feel the pain?

Do we feel the pain of the families of the soldiers who have been killed, Hy”d?

Do we feel the pain of the soldiers who have been injured?

Do we feel the pain of the parents of the three yeshiva students who were abducted and murdered a month ago?

Do we go to sleep at night crying?

Do we shed tears for all their grief and sorrow?”

“If we are to bring the redemption”, he continued,

“If we are to rebuild the beis hamikdash (the Temple in Jerusalem);

If we are to see the day that Tisha Ba’Av is no longer a day of mourning but rather a holiday

Then we must feel the pain….really feel the pain as if it is our loss, our injury, our sorrow, our pain.”

As we enter the week of Tisha Ba’Av let us resolve, each and every one of us – those who recite kaddish and those who answer amen – that we shall no longer react by rote; that we shall no longer respond superficially, that we shall experience the pain of a fellow Jew not “as if” it were our pain but because it is our pain.

And may we see the coming of Moshiach soon and in our day.

May this Shabbos bring peace and tranquility to Zahal and to all of Israel.

Good Shabbos.