October 29, 2014 – 5 Cheshvan 5775

My “saying kaddish stress” continues. It is simply incredible how much time I have spent this week trying to coordinate flights, business meetings and minyanim. I am exhausted from the effort.

Columbus turned out fine. I flew in very late Monday night after davening maariv in Silver Spring. I was up at 5:30 am Tuesday morning so that I could drive to shul in Columbus for shachris. I lucked out and was able to leave Columbus mid-afternoon which enabled me to make mincha maariv in Silver Spring. One trip down; three more to go.

I thought I had my California trip next week all figured out but had to start all over when the most critical mid-day flight I needed was sold out. So instead of flying to San Francisco on Monday from St. Louis, where I will be for Shabbos, I will now have to daven mincha in St. Louis early Sunday afternoon, then fly back Sunday afternoon to DC, daven maariv at the late minyan in Silver Spring and fly to San Francisco on Monday night. I do not see how it will be possible for me to make a maariv minyan on Monday given the available flight times so I will try and see if I can get the Agudah minyan to learn a mishna after mincha on Monday so that I can say an extra kaddish after mincha. As for Tuesday in San Francisco, I have contacted a Chabad shaliach to see if he can help with minyanim. I have a very tight afternoon business schedule and I will need G-d’s help if I am to succeed in finding/making a mincha minyan. I will take a red-eye back so that I can go straight to the late minyan in Silver Spring on Wednesday morning.

Tomorrow I will be in New York and one would think that those arrangements would be stress free – but they are not. I can’t take as early a train as I would like because of shachris. Amazingly, mincha has worked out because there is a minyan at the office where I have a meeting at 2 pm. I then have a 4 pm meeting and need to end in time to make a 6 pm train so that I can be sure to make the late maariv minyan in Silver Spring.

Just another day in the life of an aveil saying kaddish.

October 27, 2014 – 3 Cheshvan 5775

It is only Monday and my saying kaddish stress level is already quite high.

Yesterday, we drove to New York For Shaya Hirtz’s wedding. It was my first ever “go to a chuppa as an aveil”. I avoided the music for the most part and left immediately after the chuppa. Thank G-d minyanim yesterday worked out without any complications. I davened mincha at 1:45 pm at B’nai Yeshurun in Teaneck. I could not believe how large the minyan was.


Then I davened maariv right after the chupa at the wedding, got in the car drove for four hours and got home at mid night.

Upon my arrival to the office this morning I began to drill down on my travel for this and next week. While this week should be relatively manageable ( I may miss a maariv Tuesday night) next week looks like it will be “impossible”. I have to go to the San Francisco area and between flight schedules, limited minyanim in San Francisco and meeting times, it appears quite likely that I will miss. The only question is how many times will I miss saying kaddish. Quite frankly, I am almost at the point where I may try and get out of going.

October 25, 2014 – 1 Cheshvan 5775

Today was my mother’s birthday. Gone are the flowers, the gifts and the birthday cards. All that is left are memories.

Today was Shabbos Parshas Noach – my father’s bar mitzvah parsha. Long gone are the stories of his first minyan bar mitzvah and his identical twin’s second minyan bar mitzvah. All that is left are distant memories.

Today, five months ago, I began saying kaddish.


October 22, 2014 – 28 Tishrei 5775

Saying kaddish this week has been fairly routine; my regular shachris minyan; mincha at 1:45 pm at the Agudah office and maariv at 10 pm at the Yeshiva. That does not mean that I am not stressing about saying kaddish. Quite to the contrary, I am planning my travel for the next two weeks and flight schedules, meeting times and minyanim do not easily fit together.

Next week I will be in Columbus on Tuesday, New York on Thursday and the following week I will be in San Francisco for a few days. Add to that that we move the clock back an hour next Saturday night. This means that mincha maariv will be late afternoon/early evening. Making it all work will not be simple. I am already looking at extra travel days and alternative flight schedules. Even then I am not sure that I can make it all work.

Whoever said that saying kaddish is easy.

October 19, 2014 – 25 Tishrei 5775

A note to my Esrog (citron)

My dear Esrog,

I owe you a sincere apology.

For your entire life you dreamed of the day when you would be purchased by someone who would perform with you the mitzvos (commandments) of the arba minim (the four species). Somehow you made your way from an orchard in Israel to Silver Spring with high hopes of fulfilling your singular mission in life. With your perfect features you were sure to have a once in a lifetime experience.

Your exquisite beauty caused you to be set aside as one of two possible choices for me to select as my esrog. As soon as I opened your box there was no question. You would be my esrog. Your color was radiant; your shape majestic; your skin spotless.

What a joy on the first day of Succos as I stood in my sukkah, unwrapped the cloth in which you had been packaged, coddled and kissed you, lifted you next to my lulav and began reciting the Yehi Ratzon and blessings. I so enjoyed shaking you together with the other species for the very first time.

At the appointed time we were off to shul together. I recited the Hallel with you in my hand; all the while admiring your beauty.

Then came Hoshanos.

Aveilus required that I put you down and instead of marching with you, hold the Torah so that everyone else could march with their esrog and lulav proudly in hand. You were left lying on a bench waiting for everyone else to finish Hoshanos. How disappointed you must have been. The day(s) you had been waiting for all of your short life, the opportunity to march with all the other esrogim, would never be yours. You, unfortunately, had been purchased by an aveil. You would never march during Hoshanos.

On Simchas Torah I experienced the pain you had been feeling throughout the Succos holiday. As everyone else circled the bimah during Hakafos and danced with the Torah I was a mere a bystander. I stood on the side, waited for several hours for the merriment of the day to conclude and musaf to begin, so that I could say kaddish.

As I waited, a thought crossed my mind. While you and I were both unable to join in the outward manifestations of the holiday, perhaps, we were nonetheless engaged in an important exercise. For how can public demonstrations of holiday joy and love of the Torah be meaningful without private individual commitment to Torah and mitzvos? Isn’t that what all the marching and dancing is supposed to be about?

Isn’t that what you and I were doing in our own very small way?

If I am right then we should feel an inner joy – even if this year it is wrapped in sadness.

October 13, 2014 – Chol Hamoed Succos 5775

If my serving as a chazzan on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was a furlough of sorts from my aveilus, the Succos holiday has returned me full force to being a mourner.

First, my temporary reprieve which allowed me to serve as the chazzan is no longer. Thus as I recited the Hallel on the first day of Succos, it was as though my direct line to the Almighty had been shut down. I was back to sending my prayers through others.

Second, Succos is “zman simchasaeinu”, the holiday of our joy. We are commanded to be in a spirit of joy. For one in a state of mourning, however, achieving this state of joyousness is a challenge becuase our tradition pointedly (and publicly) reminds one of his state of aveilus. The most glaring example is the restriction on the mourner from participating fully in the Hoshanos, the “march” around the Torah with the esrog and lulav. The widely accepted practice is that the aveil does not march and remains stationary at his seat during this part of the service. Thus, while all the other congregants are circling the Torah with their esrog and lulav, the mourner stands out from the crowd as a non-participant. This tradition is particularly curious, as in general, mourners are prohibited from public displays of mourning on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Yet, on this holiday of joy, mourners are restricted from fully participating in a way that clearly and publicly identifies them as mourners. As I stood stationary during Hoshanos, I felt bad not only for myself but also for my beautiful esrog and lulav which sadly were “cheated” by having been purchased by an aveil.

Third, during Chol Hamoed Succos (the intermediate days of the holiday) we commemorate the simchas beis hashoeva ceremony (the drawing of the water) that took place during the holiday of Succos in the Beis Hamikdash (the Temple) with celebrations large and small in the sukkah. As a mourner one cannot participate in these celebrations. Thus, this year I did not travel to New York to attend the Simchas Beis Hashoeva of the Zvhiller Rebbe in his sukkah in Union City New Jersey. Yet, another reminder that I am an aveil – even during zman simchaseinu.

Clearly, the point must be that one whose parent has died cannot (and should not) be in a state of true or complete joy during the first year after suffering the loss – even at the very time when we are commanded to be joyous. Perhaps, as I discussed with my good friend Rabbi Dovid Katzenstien, there is another deeper point – that even in a state of aveilus, when the mourner is restricted, out of respect for his parent, from participating in activities that cause one to be joyous, the mourner must still at some, though reduced level, achieve some modicum of holiday joy – as if to say to the Almighty, “though I am burdened by my loss, I nonetheless am striving to fulfill Your commandment to celebrate this holiday in state of joy.” Perhaps, the mere attempt to do so, restrictions notwithstanding, brings honor to the departed in the heavens above.

October 8, 2015 – Erev Succos 5775

Erev Succos (the day before the commencement of the holiday of Succos) was always a special day for me as a child. On the night of Erev Succos my father would come home early and take my brother Karl and me to the Lower East Side to purchase and esrog and lulav. In those days the hub of the Jewish retail district was the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Delancey Street, Essex Street, Hester Street and Orchard Street were lined with small Jewish owned stores on the first floor of tenement houses. After Yom Kippur almost every storefront was converted into an esrog store. Even the venerable Miller’s Cheese store rented out its window to an esrog merchant. The sidewalks were filled with peddlers’ tables selling hadasim and aravos. Each merchant and peddler would call out, in Yiddish, their wares and try to entice into their cubicle the throngs of people who came to find the prefect esrog and lulav. There were literally thousands of people on the streets, looking, selling and buying.

When we walked the streets with my father he would be stopped time and time again by a friend or an acquaintance. Many times he was greeted by a friend of his identical twin brother Hyman thinking that my dad was my uncle. My father would simply play along and then, as we walked away, would turn to us and say, “He knows Hymie”. I loved it! Eventually my father would find what he was looking for, negotiate the price and we would be back on our way home.

Many years have passed since I last bought an esrog with my father on the Lower East Side but every year as I go to buy my esrog and lulav in Silver Spring I think of and long for those wonderful adventures with him.

And for the last twenty nine years Erev Succos conjures up other sadder memories. I remember flying into LaGuardia on the eastern Shuttle early that Sunday morning in 1985 with my young family, going to my parents’ house and then to my father’s funeral in the main sanctuary of the shul which he built, the Queens Jewish Center. From there to the New Montefiore Cemetery on Long Island and then back to my parents’ house were we sat shiva for an hour. Then it was time to go to shul to say kaddish and welcome in the holiday. I will never forget the tears streaming down our faces as we made kiddush in the sukkah and recited Shehechiyanu.

Many years have passed since that day but the events of Erev Succos are etched in my memory.

Today for the first time in my life I am saying kaddish for both my parents. Tonight I will recite the kiddush and say the Shehechiyanu.

October 6, 2014 – 12 Tishrei 5775

There I stood – in my father’s kittel, having just concluded singing the final kaddish of Neilah (the final prayer service of Yom Kippur), drained from a total of six hours as chazzan for Kol Nidrei, Mussaf and Neilah, when the gabbai came up to me and asked me to be the chazzan for Maariv.

‘Chazzan for Maariv? That’s for a mourner’, I thought to myself.

‘Wait a minute …. I am a mourner.’

At that very moment, not a second after the final words of Neilah, it hit me. My “furlough” from aveilus was over. The short respite that allowed me to serve as the cantor on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was finished. I was back to being a full-fledged mourner with all the obligations and restrictions that go with that status. And I would remain a mourner, with no more “furloughs”, for the next eight months.

As I was assimilating in my mind this abrupt transition back, I realized another death related, sad fact. Tuesday evening and Wednesday, Erev Succos, (eve of the Succos holiday) would be the 29th yartzieght (anniversary of one’s passing) for my father a’h. Independent of my year of mourning for my mother a”h, I would be obligated to mourn for my father by saying kaddish, lighting a memorial candle and the other obligations and restrictions of the yartzieght day. There I was, in my father’s kittel leading the Maariv service on the Saturday night preceding his yartzieght just as he had been so diligent to do year after year when he had yartzieght for his parents.

In a mere split second I was no longer praying for life and good fortune. I was back to being a mourner – saying kaddish and thinking about death and mourning. At least, however, it was the first time in twenty nine years that my parents were starting the New Year together…. This time in the heavens above.

October 3, 2014 – Erev Yom Kippur 5774

For many years the highlight of my Yom Kippur was watching my father a”h as he opened the Aron Kodesh (ark) at Neilah.

Year after year my father was honored with this important kibud. He would stand to the right of the Aron, perfectly erect, virtually at attention, draped in his talis, and enveloped in his white kittel as the Chazzan recited this final tefilah (prayer) as the heavens opened and the Yom Hakadosh (holy day) came to a close. It is a memory forever imprinted in my mind and one that I visualize every year as I begin the chazaras hashatz (Cantor’s repetition) of Neilah.

This past summer as we began the process of cleaning out my mother’s house we found in one of her closets my father’s kittel. It has not been worn for the last 30 years. This year when I daven Neliah I will, please G-d, wear my father’s kittel and I will be reunited with his neshoma (soul) in a most intimate way.

My father accomplished much in his lifetime. He was a devoted husband and father, an important leader of the Jewish community and a compassionate friend and advisor to many in need.

In his merit may my tefilos (prayers) to be accepted by the Master of the Universe and may we all be sealed in the book of life.

G’mar chasima tova.

October 2, 2014 – 8 Tishrei 5775

I was scheduled to go to Columbus for a trial prep meeting on Wednesday night and to return on an 8 pm flight on Thursday night. That is until I checked the Columbus weather as I was driving to work on Wednesday and found that Columbus was forecasted to get “severe thunderstorms” on Thursday night. Just what I needed! To be stuck in Columbus on Erev Yom Kippur! In addition, as I looked more closely at the time for mincha in Columbus – 6:55 pm – and my arrival time in Baltimore – 9:25 pm – I realized that there was a very high likelihood that I would miss both mincha and maariv. When I got to the office I decided to call my co-counsel and explain my concerns. He was very understanding and agreed that we have a skype session instead. That is what we did, everyone was impressed by how effective it was and I was confident that I had avoided a major saying kaddish problem.

So I thought.

Our skype session lasted for hours and did not finish in time for me to make the 1:45 pm mincha minyan at the Agudah office. No worries, I thought to myself, ‘I will leave the office a bit early, go to the 6:35 pm mincha minyan in my shul, and then finish working in my home office after shul.’ Simple enough.

I left the office at 5:45 pm with plenty of time to make the 6:35 pm minyan. Much to my dismay, every route was clogged with traffic – New York style, bumper to bumper traffic. As I maneuvered through route change after route change the clock ticked away. No way would I get to shul by 6:35 pm. My stress level and frustration increased with every minute. Would I at least get to shul in time to say kaddish at the very end of mincha? At 6:45 pm as I was literally stopped in traffic near the 4 corners intersection (normally 5 minutes from YISE)I did not think I would make it. I was despondent. How was it possible that Erev Yom Kippur, in Silver Spring, I was going to miss saying kaddish? At this rate I could have gone to Columbus!

Chasdei Hashem (with G-d’s kindness) I eventually made it to shul just as they were finishing mincha and I was able to say kaddish. Not without a lot of stress and angst but thankful nonethless.