When I went home, a few weeks ago, my mum reminded me that she wanted me to do Kaddish for her when she died. She revealed she also wants me to do Kaddish for my grandma. Kaddish is the Jewish mourning ritual, lasting a year. I knew little about it, beyond it being arduous, until I read this article. Through filial love and obligation I will be forced to do it.
To remind those of you who know me only partially, though I performed my barmitzvah at the wailing wall, though I was brought up Jewish, I protested against it from day one. When I was six or seven I was first sent to the Jewish sunday school at the Shul and declared myself an atheist to my mum on that day. She said, “you’re too young to know. I’m just giving you the chance to make your own decision.” I didn’t believe in anything then and as I get older I get closer to a pragmatic nihilism. For eleven years I was bullied and excluded by almost everyone at the synagogue and I feel no affection for the religion and I do not forgive my mother, my apparently atheist mother, for sending me there for feelings of obligation to her mother and grandfather and those who died in the war. I felt that, by putting the wishes of the dead (gone) above my wishes, she betrayed me.
However, I need to learn this ritual as my grandmother is increasingly old and frail. The ritual consists of several stages, as far I can see. First I must tear my hair and clothes and do nothing until the body is buried (within 24 hours.) Second I must spend a week in the house “sitting shivah“, praying with a minyan (ten Jewish men) every day, receiving visitors. Next the thirty-day shloshim. Any good deeds I do during shloshim go to the credit of the departed, meaning they get upgraded quarters in heaven. Apparently, I’m not allowed to shave and it’s customary to coordinate a group of people in learning the mishnah (jewish oral law) completely during this time. Finally, the next eleven months I’ll have to spend reciting the mourner’s kaddish as part of services in a synagogue, until finally the gravestone is planted and unveiled. At that point, I’m not allowed to mourn anymore.
I am massively offended that my mother has asked me to do this. It’s made me disproportionately angry, because this religion felt like such an abuse of my childhood. If she’d died, I probably wouldn’t have done it, as I know her to be unreligious and she wouldn’t have been around to see it. I would have mourned her in my own, non-institutionalised way. I believe that death is the end; I may be wrong, but I think it highly unlikely in the worlds of possiblities that the Jewish afterlife happens to be correct. However, now she says she wants me to do it for my grandmother, I’m obliged to learn this, as my mother will be there to see it.