My dad used to
make phone calls in the morning from the synagogue office. It was the same thing
every time. 6:15 would strike, he'd call, somebody would answer, and my dad
would say, "Get out of bed, and get to services. Someone is
saying kaddish, and we need a minyan."
This went on for
years. Same setting, same people, and my dad's voice the alarm clock in so many
For many, 6:15 is a bit early for a call. I remember once that
services had started and there weren't enough people. Someone needed to say
kaddish (recitation of the hymn requires at least 10 present), so my
dad went to the synagogue office. He took out the directory and dialed. A woman
answered. My dad said, "Tell your husband to get out of bed and get to
services." Irritated, she replied, "Rick, I'm not telling him. He's not in bed.
I don't know where he is. It's not my problem." My dad responded, "Look lady,
it's 6:15 in the morning. If you don't know where your husband is, you've got
bigger problems than I do."
Kaddish is a special hymn. There's
something about it that necessitates the presence of others. My dad got that. I
only understood it when I started saying kaddish for him.
day, since Jan. 31, 2013, I've been saying kaddish. I don't know if it
keeps me going. I don't know if it holds me back. I just keep saying it, and
thankfully people are there to respond.
Those who've helped me I can't
repay, but maybe this can be a start:
I am a runner. Months ago, I
registered for the Chicago Marathon. It wasn't my first marathon; it won't be my
last, but Chicago is special. I grew up here, have family here, and although I
left seven years ago, I still feel connected to this great city.
registered, I didn't think it would be a problem saying kaddish before
the race. Chicago has a huge Jewish community; factor in the 45,000 runners and
one million spectators, and I figured that finding a group of nine other people
shouldn't be that tough. Except it was. In the months leading up to the race,
when I reached out for help, I was ignored, told that 6 am was too early to wake
up, and even advised just to skip saying kaddish for my dad.
was incredibly frustrating. I wanted to run the race, and I wanted to say
kaddish for my dad. Most people didn't get it. In a moment of
desperation, I Googled "Chicago Jewish runner." A lay leader from JUF came up. I
emailed him. Within hours, he and members of JUF responded, offered condolences,
and reassured me that without reservation a group would be gathered before the
race so that I could say kaddish for my dad.
The morning of the
marathon, we met in the Lower Level of the Hilton: Chicagoans, New Yorkers, and
Israelis, people who brought a tallit, yarmulke, or
tefillin, others who had never been to a minyan before. In a
room reserved for charities and the runners who support them, we stood beside
our table and its picture of a running shoe and a Jewish star with words stating
As the service progressed, members announced page numbers, the
place on the page was pointed out, and we moved through the prayer book
together, as a team. I kept thinking about my dad-all those mornings, all those
phone calls, all those people he helped say kaddish. And in the
basement of the Chicago Hilton, as I finished saying kaddish for him, I
felt a hand on my shoulder, tears welling up in my eyes, I turned, and the lay
leader who months ago heard my cry reached out again, but this time with a
I grew up attending JUF supported summer camps and schools. I
learned Hebrew. I traveled to Israel. I live a life with Jewish values. In
classrooms, fields, and in a basement, at every stage, in every place, JUF has
been there too.
Adam Reinherz is an Instructor at the Osher Lifelong
Learning Institute, University