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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Speed kills

Yesterday was Shabbat. I decided to go to an early afternoon mincha prayer service to give myself more time in the afternoon to rest. This early service, which began at 12:30 p.m., is called "mincha g'dola," the "great mincha." (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mincha#Time_frame_for_recitation) As most people go to the later mincha service, there weren't too many people (men), around 15-20. They were spread out all over, fairly typical for an orthodox setting, as most people tend to gravitate toward particular locations in the synagogue space.

I was, as usual, close to the back. Given the sparse crowd, I figured I might be the only one saying kaddish. But when we got to kaddish, another man, seated on the other side of the sanctuary, also began reciting kaddish. He was loud and going at a breakneck speed. His kaddish exploded like a bat out of hell. I had to make a quick decision: either try keeping up with his speed or say it at my own pace. The quickly ruled out the former; his was going too fast for me. But I wasn't happy with the latter option either, having two voices at completely different places in their kaddish at the same time. So I choose a third option: suspending my kaddish until he was finished and then continuing mine. Of course, once he was finished, the others began talking, thinking the prayer service was over. But I persisted in my kaddish, and they got the message, quieted down and responded to my kaddish. Afterward, the other kaddish-sayer apologized to me, saying he didn't hear anyone else saying kaddish. Of course, I thought to myself, he didn't hear: he wasn't listening.

At another synagogue where I pray, the rabbi will sometimes say kaddish along with the mourners just to ensure that everyone is going at the same pace. It's a good idea. The call and response of kaddish demands that people be on the same page. When kaddish is recited together, everyone feels that the other kadddishes are supporting and lifting up your own. Kaddish is not just between you and your deceased or between you and God. It's also between you and other mourners. I don't know what metaphysical effect it has on the soul of your loved one. But I know what effect it has one other mourners. It's comforting to know you are not alone. More, it's a way of binding people together in a shared experience. Unfortunately, that's not what I experienced today.

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