I spent my morning at the cemetery. It’s been half a year. What is time, anyway? Here, on this side of the door we all dread, and are all fascinated with, time is precious. It’s tangible. We all run to finish things we need to do, making plans for the day – don’t forget this, remember to do that. But there, on the other side, is there a concept of time? Evidently, it should exist, at least for the first year. Why else the prescribed time for mourning?
Half a year since I am davening Mincha every workday, and Shacharit every Shabbat to say kaddish for my father, Shimon ben Nachum of blessed memory. I do not know what, if anything, my saying it does for my father’s soul. I just believe and hope it does something good. I don’t know. I know there is a Gd. I don’t believe it, I know. I’ve had enough proofs in my own life and seen things in the lives of others to know. With kaddish, I don’t know. I just hope.
Somehow, my dad, who was never observant, and just lately spoke of his observant grandparents, brought me closer to the part of my life that was the hardest for me – prayer. When I stand behind the mechitza, the only woman in the shul, I feel connected. In my isolation, I feel bound to my people and to my dad. Every time I open my mouth to say – “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified”, I ask myself – who am I to dare utter Almighty’s praise? What kind of a speck of dust can think that it is close to the Source of all living? And yet – somehow I know that this “consuming fire” (כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֵשׁ אֹכְלָה הוּא: אֵל, קַנָּא – For the LORD thy God is a devouring fire, a jealous God – Deuteronomy 4:24) is not going to consume me right this moment. Not now. I am too close looking at it , so I am saved so far. It’s when I turn away, It may run after me burning me. Not yet.
Most of the times I open this book and think about my dad, I see a fleeting sign of him somehow escaping me – his smile, his wink, his joke, his eyes – blue as the sky around the time of my birthday in June – blue to the last day of his life.
Half a year. I don’t know what will change for my dad’s soul after another 5 months. But I know what will change for me. I will miss it. As strange as it sounds, it feels that I will be longing to go to that shul, where the only sign of my existence is a smile of a man I don’t know, who happens to sit on the other side of the mechitza handing me a siddur just so that I don’t barge into the men’s territory where the siddurim are piled on the shelf. I don’t know anything about this guy except that he has glasses and a gray beard – not too rare a sight for a Jewish man, but I appreciate his effort, and I am not taking it for granted. I appreciate that the men running through prayers are teaching me to keep up. This tells me that compared to them, I still need to learn a lot. And I promise I will.
Sometimes I think how strange it is that getting older we (or is it just me) sometimes want to feel more like children than grown-ups. All I want today is to take a seat on my father’s lap and stroke his white hair. And all I could pray for – please Gd! Let my mother stay here healthy and strong for as long as it’s possible for You to keep her next to me. Is it not forever???!!!