On Tuesday July 2 at Mincha (afternoon service) I completed 11 months of saying Kaddish for my mom, Janice Hiller z”l. Although I will still be in mourning until the end of the month, my obligation to say Kaddish on a daily basis will be completed.
Since her passing, I have attempted to honor her life and her memory by going to shul three times a day to say Kaddish; Shacharit, Mincha and Ma’ariv (morning, afternoon and evening services) every day. At Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah, we say Kaddish a lot! Eight times a day to be exact. There are some exceptions but I estimate that during the year of mourning I have said this prayer more than 2,500 times. Although it’s been almost 11 months since she passed away, and the Kaddish is indelibly etched in my brain, I still think about my mom each and every time I recite the prayer. I guess that’s what it is all about.
Eleven months in any calendar is a long time and this year has been one in which I have truly counted the days and the number of places where I have gone to minyan. Every day, every business trip, every vacation required that a synagogue be close by and for me to know what time of day they were davening. At Beth Sholom, morning minyan is either 6:10 on Rosh Chodesh, 6:15 on fast days, 6:20 on Mondays and Thursdays, 8 a.m. on Sundays and federal holidays, sometimes, and 9 a.m. on Shabbat. And Mincha and Ma’ariv are always changing according to the sunset. That moving schedule is the norm in the shuls that I have attended; of course, there are exceptions. No surprise there.
The list of shuls is pretty overwhelming. Aside from the majority of my time which was spent at Beth Sholom, I have also had the opportunity to pray at Chabad in Potomac, Bethesda, and Fairfax; Young Israel in Potomac and Oak Park, Mich., the Woodside shul, the ROC, BECO, the Bethesda Minyan, Beth El of MC, Ohr Kodesh, the Berman Academy, the Yeshiva, CES-JDS, Gesher Jewish Day School, Congregation Olam Tikvah, Agudas Achim, Beth Emeth, Temple Rodef Shalom and at both of Washington Hebrew Congregation’s sites. I have said Kaddish at the Israeli Embassy in D.C. and at the Ronald Reagan Building, and at The Jewish Federation while attending Federation board meetings/events. While visiting my dad I have been to been a Chabad in Lakewood, the Freehold Jewish Center and then there were the Florida shuls: Anshei Shalom and Del Ray Orthodox.
I recently returned from visiting my daughter in Israel where I found minyanim in 18 shuls and yeshivas including one in the ancient shul on top of Masada, one in a hotel at the Dead Sea and one by the beach in Nahariya on Yom Ha’atzmaut. I davened Shacharit in Meah Shearim in a shul where there was a minyan starting every 10 minutes or so and in a haredi shul in Bet Shemesh. There were several minyanim in Israel where I was the only one who was not dressed in black. And EVERYONE was totally warm, friendly and comforting even when we had limited conversation. I even got an aliyah at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.
I can’t forget the cruise, when my friends Ari and David and I were on a mission to recruit “congregants” to join us for several minyanim. I think our kabbalat Shabbat on the cruise had people from 10 different countries and five continents in attendance. And finally I can’t forget the Chabad in Cozumel, Mexico where a special Mincha was convened to accommodate me.
While it has been a very difficult year in many ways it has also been a wonderful experience. As I have celebrated my mom’s life and mourned her passing, I have found tremendous support from the community. I have felt welcomed and have benefited from all the support provided by the regulars who make the minyan. And a special shout out to my friends at Beth Sholom’s daily minyan; thank you for making me part of your family. And of course I would be remiss if I did not thank my own family and my wonderful wife, Kim, who has been supportive of me throughout from the 5:30 a.m. wake up for Shacharit to the 8:25 Mincha/Ma’ariv, and as she asks:
“What time is minyan?” I have a different answer nearly every day.
Finally to my mom, Shayndal bat Rachel, may your memory always be for a blessing for anyone who had the pleasure to know you. While you are missed terribly you will never be forgotten.
It’s late and I need to go, tomorrow is Wednesday; oh and by the way minyan is at 6:30 a.m.
Janice Hiller’s yahrtzeit will be observed on the 24th of Av which is July 31.
Arnie Heller is a member of the board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and past president of Gesher Jewish Day School of Northern Virginia.