LIVING A YEAR OF KADDISH, by Ari Goldman; Schocken Books; 210 pages. $22.
When his mother died, Ari Goldman kept kaddish for a year, in the tradition of his Orthodox Jewish faith. When his father died, four years later, he did the same. This time, though, he took notes during his mourning and he wrote a memoir.
"Living a Year of Kaddish" is a book about healing. It also explains the usefulness of prayer and tells the story of Judaism from the inside. "Living a Year of Kaddish" is a sweet memoir.
In Orthodoxy, a son prays for his parent every day for a year. He must pray at a shul (or synagogue) in a gathering of at least 10 men. The prayers are to be said three times each day. Goldman decided to pray every morning, while his brother attended to the daytime and evening prayers.
It must be said, though, that there were mornings — in the cold of a New York winter or in the vacation days of summer — when Goldman went to the shul and found there were not enough men to pray with him. He attempted a kaddish every morning, however. And in this way, he found peace.
Kaddish also requires a mourner to refrain from buying new clothes and refrain from listening to music for a year. Goldman had no trouble with the first stricture, but he did attend a couple of concerts and he did listen to the music at his daughter's bat mitzvah. He listened — but he found himself unmoved by the music he heard. He was surprised to find that his heart was incapable of being lifted up.
To those outside of his religion, Goldman seemed to be making a sincere effort. But others saw him as too lax.
In his 50 years, Goldman says, he has seen Orthodoxy move to the right. During his year of kaddish, he was treated coldly in one congregation and chastised by their rabbi for being too liberal. He had another rabbi tell him that only by his strict observance of the rituals could his dead father hope to advance through paradise.
Writes Goldman, "But Rabbi Cohen's view of kaddish — indeed the traditional view of kaddish — was not my own. To me, kaddish is more for the living than for the dead. I believe that in my daily recitation of the prayer, I was coming to terms with who my father was and who I am. If I missed a day of kaddish, I suffered, not my father.
"When I die," Goldman writes, "I want my children to say kaddish for me, but for themselves, too."