April 25, 2015 -7 Iyar 5775

I arrived in Israel on the morning of Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day). Unlike Memorial Day in the United States, in Israel Yom Hazikaron is a universally somber day on which the entire country grieves the loss of more than 20,000 heroic lives lost in the defense of the People of Israel and the Land of Israel.

As I end my year of mourning, I specifically wanted to be here in Israel on Yom Hazikaron and to participate in the national day of mourning. Attending several Yom Hazikaron events and particularly paying my respects for several hours at the Har Herzel military cemetery in Jerusalem vividly demonstrated that while the entire nation mourns, death and the feelings of loss are intensely personal.

The following images taken during my several hour visit to Har Herzel this past Wednesday convey more poignantly than words that the loss never stops hurting for the families of Israel’s fallen.

May the memories of these heroes be blessed.

May the Almighty comfort the grieving families.

April 19, 2015 – 30 Nissan 5775

My first week post “saying kaddish” presented me with my first post “saying kaddish” travel – to Boca Raton Florida. My several days at the ABA meeting in Boca demonstrated to me that being obligated to recite kaddish made my choices so much easier. During the eleven months of saying kaddish there was never a question, never a doubt. Whatever it took that’s what I had to do. Find the synagogue, rent a car, skip a meeting, go a day early, come back a day later – whatever I needed to do to fulfill my obligation that is what I had to do.

Now my obligation to say kaddish has ended and my obligation to daven with a minyan is the “standard one”. I am quickly finding that the planning, choices and effort required to daven three times a day in a minyan while on the road have suddenly become more “difficult” for me than they were just a week ago. And so in Boca I struggled a bit.

On my first night in Boca I missed mincha for a speaker’s dinner – something I would not not have done over the last eleven months – but left early to make a 9:30 pm maariv at the Boca Raton Synagogue.

I was surprised to find that the Boca Raton Synagogue is a very large shul on a beautiful campus housing a school and other facilities including a mikvah. It has many minyanim every day; both Ashkenazi and Sephardi. The next morning I attended a 7 am shachris minyan in the main sanctuary.

I returned in the evening for mincha maariv in the beis medrash

where I also davened vasikin on Friday morning.

Marilyn joined me late Thursday night in Boca and after I spoke at the ABA on Friday we drove to Miami for Shabbos. On Friday night we walked to Tower 41 where we were eating and I davened in the shul in that building.

Shabbos day I davened in a “shtibel” in the Carriage Club. It reminded me of the shtiblech my father would take me to as a child. I sat in the last row of this small room full of retirees and elderly men speaking in Yiddish and heavily accented English. Sitting at the table in front of me was a younger modern looking fellow saying kaddish. He was visiting from Englewood and while this type of shul was clearly not his first choice he did what he had to do to say kaddish.

Just a week ago I was in exactly the same situation – but no longer. Now I am in limbo – I am an aveil for three more weeks; but a mourner with no voice and no outlet to express my feelings. Now there is silence. I can only “say” kaddish in my thoughts.

April 15, 2015 – 26 Nissan 5775

On Sunday evening I completed my eleven months of saying kaddish. Fortunately, as things worked out, I was able to be the chazzan for each service on that final day. I forced myself to “keep it together” and did not show my emotions publicly. I am still trying to take it all in and get accustomed to not saying kaddish. Many friends have confided in me their feelings when they reached the end of their saying kaddish. I am still contemplating what this latest “end” in a year full of “ends” means to me and I am not yet ready to discuss what will at some point be the subject of a future blog post.

I write this post from Boca Raton. I flew here this morning for the annual meeting of the American Bar Association Construction Industry Forum where I will be speaking on Friday morning. This is my first post saying kaddish trip. While in D all week I have been able to keep my “I can’t miss a minyan” schedule. This morning I attended the rocket minyan and then drove to the airport. I can tell, though, that it will be a challenge to ‘never miss a minyan”. Whether rightly or wrongly my attitude when saying kaddish was that I could not miss. Saying kaddish was always the priority and other considerations – including business requirements – had to accommodate my saying kaddish. Thus, there were meetings, events and trips that I just avoided because I could not make them work with saying kaddish. I don’t think I can now maintain that same approach to the same degree. Time will tell how successful I can be – especially when traveling.

April 12, 2015 – 23 Nissan 5775

Last Monday – Tuesday was my final trip while saying kaddish. We drove to Newark Airport to pick up our kids from St Louis and spent two wonderful days as tourists in New York City. We went to see all the sites, e.g. the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Empire State Building etc. that I never went to as an indigenous New Yorker! It was great fun. Of course Kaddish required the usual planning and logistics.

We stayed in the Times Square area and originally I though Chabad on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street would be the perfect shul to attend. After checking on line I found that Chabad did not have a maariv minyan and its shachris minyan was too late in the morning to accommodate our schedule. I started checking shuls on the upper West Side and was about set to go to OZ on 95th Street when I remembered that Lincoln Square was in the sixties. So I hopped on a cab at about 630 Pm on Monday and went to the new Lincoln Square Synagogue building on Amsterdam Avenue and 68th Street. Two New York City policeman were standing guard at the front doors and a security guard was sitting at a desk at the entry. He motioned me to the main sanctuary. The shul is absolutely magnificent.

Mincha and maariv were held in the main sanctuary with a mixture of locals and visitors attending. When the minyan concluded, I Ubered to Mr. Broadway where my family had begun eating. The restaurant was bustling. From the packed tables and the extensive menu it was barely discernible that it was Passover.

Tuesday morning I returned to Lincoln Square for the first minyan at 7 am. The main doors were locked. I rang the bell and the security guard opened the door. This minyan was held in the beis medrash on the second floor. As I entered the beis medrash I could hear a group studying the daf yomi in the women’s section. When they concluded they recited a kaddish derabbanon which I joined as it was an extra “insurance kaddish” for the day. The minyan was clearly attended by “regulars”. I overhead two gentleman discussing how the Young Israel of the West Side had so many members leave the city for the holiday that it did not have services on the first days of the holiday! In any event, the minyan was quite efficient (not to fast, not to slow) and at 8 am I returned to my hotel to start the day as a tourist in the Big Apple.

Mincha maariv on Tuesday was a bit of a challenge. We left New York City at 6:15 pm after an early dinner. My wife suggested that I catch a minyan on the way home in Elizabeth which was a great idea – except that New York city traffic, particularly Lincoln Tunnel traffic, prevented me from making it on time. So I called an audible, got in touch with a friend and asked him to say kaddish for me at mincha, and drove as fast as I could for as long as I could to make the 10 pm maariv minyan in Silver Spring. Without a minute to spare I made it and sighed a sigh of relief.

A fitting end to my final saying kaddish travel.

April 3, 2015 – Erev Pesach 5775

I completed my last business travel of my aveilus with a trip to Columbus. My meeting was scheduled for Tuesday morning at 8 am but as happened so often this year flight schedules and minyan times required that I travel on Monday afternoon so that I could make mincha/maariv on Monday evening. My return Tuesday evening/night left me few options so I planned on missing mincha and making the 10 pm maariv in Silver Spring. I asked a friend to “cover me” with saying kaddish at mincha.

As my house was already “Peasachdic” (prepared for Passover) when I left, I planned on buying dinner at the Kreoger’s in Columbus after maariv. The Kroeger’s on Broad Street houses a large kosher grocery store. Though I have been there many times I was quite “shocked” when I wheeled my shopping cart into the store and found an extremely large and incredibly well stocked kosher for Passover store. It was as large and well stocked as could be found in any major Jewish community such as New York, Baltimore, Silver Spring etc.

Tuesday morning I overslept slightly, rushed to get ready and was in my rental car by 6:10 am to begin the twenty minute drive to Ahavas Shalom for shachris. I got into the Avis Infinity SUV, and pushed the start engine button. Rather than hear the hum of the engine an error message appeared on the screen “key not recognized”. I tried again and got the same error message. “Are you kidding?”, I thought to myself as the minutes ticked away, “This is the key. It worked last night!” I tried again. No engine start. “G-d this can’t really be happening to me. Am I really going to miss kaddish.” I tried again. This time, miraculously, the car started. I drove away as quickly as I could and arrived just in time.

During davening a young man came over to me to ask if the car with Illinois plates was mine as its interior lights were on. I rushed out of shul, in talis and tefilin and found the lights on. I shut them off and returned to shul worrying all through the service that the car would not start and I would not make my meeting. After shul I bid farewell to my Columbus friends and apprehensively opened the door to the Infinity. I pushed the start button. Nothing happened – except that dreaded error message appeared again. “Great! I made kaddish but will miss my meeting!” I tried a few more times. Suddenly, on another push of the button the car started. I sighed a sigh of relief and quickly drove off to my client meeting thinking to myself how I had experienced, real time, the Talmudic principle – sheluchai mitzvah ainon nezakin lo behalichison velo bechazirasan -– One attempting to perform a mitzvah is not frustrated – neither on the way to or on the way back from performing the mitzvah.

My client meeting was scheduled for the entire day and my return flight was at 7:25 pm. As things turned out the meeting ended mid-day and I was pleasantly surprised to make a 2:30 pm return flight to Baltimore. I would now have no problem saying kaddish at mincha. What a pleasant ending to my final business trip while saying kaddish. One more trip left. Next week will be my final travel while saying kaddish when we take a couple days off in New York.

As I prepare to lead the seder tonight I am focused on how the stark reality of current world events and, in particular, the so called “nuclear deal” with Iran boldly proves the haggadic statement – shebchol dor vador omdim aleinu lechaloseinu veHakadosh Baruch Hu matzilenu meyadim –In every generation our enemies plot to annihilate us and the Almighty saves us from destruction. One does not need to be much of a believer to see the absolute truth in the first part of this statement – one need only read the daily pronouncements of the Iranians and their terrorist comrades. The message of Passover, which we are obligated to transmit to our children, is contained in the second half of the statement; that we can be confident that the Almighty, the Creator of the universe, will always save us and sustain us.

My journey this year of saying kaddish has time and time again reminded me, to paraphrase the prophet – Even when I sit in darkness the Almighty is there to my light our path.

It will be this message that I will convey tonight to my children and grandchildren as I cover my matzahs, fopr the first time with the embroided mazah cover which my father and mother used during their lifetimes.