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by Ari L. Goldman

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 2003
ISBN: 0-8052-4184-1
Publisher: Schocken

Goldman (Being Jewish, 2000, etc.) examines a central practice of his religion in this account of the yearlong mourning ritual he observed after his devout father died.

Jewish in the Modern Orthodox mode, the author undertook each day from September 1999 through August 2000 to recite the customary Kaddish, a reverent prayer in honor of the dead that never mentions death. A minyan of at least ten men (though some now count women too) must pray together for a mourner to properly utter Kaddish, which requires affirmations of “amen” to the words of praise. Goldman (Journalism/Columbia Univ.) describes the varied ways in which a minyan is gathered, nicely characterizing the participants who supported him in his regular Upper West Side minyan and at gatherings overseas. As a badge of grief, mourners traditionally do not buy new clothing and avoid live music and other entertainments. Like much Jewish practice, this custom is observed according to an individual’s understanding and philosophy. The author demonstrates his own way of dealing with tradition, considering the tension between simple observance and overarching theology. He does not offer instruction for all but rather one person’s appreciation of the value of worship integrated into everyday life. His family-centered memoir memorializes his parents, divorced for many years but united in the regard and respect of their son. “The riches they left me,” he writes, “do not need to be probated in court. There is no estate tax.” Goldman is thankful for the far greater gift they bestowed, that of an ancient ethical tradition.

A moving guide to a practice that can connect one generation with another, sure to strike a chord in readers familiar with Judaic custom and also in those who have no notion of it.