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My Adventures in Saying Kaddish

May 15, 2016 | by Alan Magill and Miriam Greenwald

The night I thought I was the butt of some cosmic joke.

Wednesday evening, July 31, 1991. The phone rang. My beloved father had been killed in an automobile accident. The fading light became total darkness, and I felt stuck in a black hole.

The part of me that was still functional vowed to do something to honor my father’s memory.

Although working full time, actively dating, and responsible for my ailing mother who lived 90 miles away, I would say Kaddish three times daily. It was the hardest goal that I had ever undertaken. Despite traveling to mom in my undependable car, rigid work schedules, and inconvenient dates, I would try my best.

Dozens of wonderful occurrences enabled me to say Kaddish on time (like the time my car broke down only once I reached a shul), but one day during Chol Hamoed Pesach topped them all.

Against extraordinary odds, I made it to every minyan for nine months. As I lived in Queens and had a date that night in Manhattan, I made precise plans. I would daven Mincha in downtown Manhattan, and after the date attend the 10:30 Maariv minyan near home. But when I arrived at the Young Israel, I was stunned to find out that they had made early Mincha/Maariv service, which was over.

I didn’t want to drive during rush hour, so I took a cab to go to another shul seven blocks away. In ten minutes we moved half a block. I paid the driver, ran to the avenue I needed and hailed another cab. The services in this next shul were also finished.

I had only one other option, Lincoln Square Synagogue. I asked the cab driver if he could get me from 23rd Street to 69th and Amsterdam Avenue in around eight minutes. He didn’t answer, but began to drive. As I looked at the traffic, I realized that there was no way that we could get through the traffic in less than 20 minutes.

With the élan and chutzpah that only a Manhattan cabbie could manage, he dropped me off exactly eight minutes later. I bolted into the small sanctuary, and made it just in time to say Kaddish.

After my date, I headed towards Queens for Maariv, but as I pulled up to the Yeshiva my stomach suddenly felt queasy – the building was dark. Of course… all of the students had gone home for the holiday! There was no minyan there, and none other known to me at that hour.

Was this some kind of cosmic joke? Do the tests ever end?

But wait…I had once been to a shul in Boro Park which had a minyan about every ten minutes until 1 a.m. I wasn’t sure of my way around that neighborhood, had about an eighth of a tank of gas left, and didn’t know of a nearby service station. I wasn’t sure where that shul was, but I had to at least try. Once in Boro Park, I’d ask for directions.

I was making good time on the Expressway until I was suddenly one of a line of cars coming to a complete stop. We did not move an inch for five minutes. Feeling abandoned, I looked toward the heavens. “How could this be happening?” I bellowed. “How much more can I do? What do You want from me?”

Then I saw a lone Chassid walking down the exit ramp.

The needle on the gas gauge was close to empty when I suddenly saw the most incredible vision: a lone Chassid walking down the exit ramp!

“Where am I?” I shouted.

“Williamsburg,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Unbelievable! Had I stopped ten feet further up, I would not have been able to turn off the ramp. Ten feet back, and I wouldn’t have seen him.

“Is there a Maariv minyan near here?”

“You’ve got mazel,” he replied. “Because it’s Chol HaMoed they have another one in about ten minutes. It’s only five minutes away,” he said, giving me directions.

Some minutes later I pulled up to a building that looked promising and asked a passing Chassid if I was on time for Maariv.

“Yeah, it starts in about two minutes.”

Before entering the shul, I clenched my well – worn siddur and exclaimed, “We made it! We made it!” and cried like a baby.

With red eyes, I davened Maariv and said the Kaddish. I found an open gas station and on my thankfully uneventful ride home understood on a deeper level than I had ever known before that it was truly we who had made it. God had been with me every step of the way.

I realized that I had great faith when things were going well, but when events seemed to be not going my way, I cried out against the One who had done so much for me.

Since that night, I have entered a new phase in my relationship with God. I understand more deeply that everything happens for a purpose, and although I may not be aware of it, everything is truly done for my good.

Watch a video on The Meaning of Kaddish.


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