Kaddish Clearance Sale
I call Mandelbaum about the Kaddish situation re: my parents. He tries to assure me there is no shame in farming out the responsibilities of mourning, that it’s a perfectly reasonable choice for a busy guy like me, and according to Jewish law, as long as the prayer gets said by someone, anyone, the soul can relax and move on. And if you can manage to get it recited in Jerusalem, he says, the deceased gets the deluxe treatment, God pulls out all the stops. We’re talking top-of-the-line. I mean, if you’re going to bother saying Kaddish at all, you may as well go for the best.
But reasonable prices my ass, the guy wants an arm and a leg for your basic Kaddish in the continental United States, almost twice that if you want it said in the Holy Land. Listen, he tells me, the shekel is running four-to-one on the dollar, so you’re getting a deal here, trust me. Some deal—I used to know a guy in Flatbush who could fix me up with a Kaddish for a fraction of what Mandelbaum is asking, but who knows how to even find a connection like that anymore? Plus, the quality of the Kaddish on the street was always suspect, you never really knew what you were getting. You pay for a full recitation and some two-bit scammer might just toss off a quick brucha and call it a day, meanwhile raking it in hand over fist. Then you got your schnorrers lining up at the grave, as if nobody can bury anyone without having these guys first rattling off some Hebrew and holding their hands out. I may not be able to commit to a year of Kaddish, I want to tell them, but I can handle this bit, at my parents’ grave!
But yes, as for the Kaddish demands, I’m up against a wall here. I got a million plates in the air, juggling six new accounts, taking the kids to horseback riding, field hockey practice, and now rehearsals for the Hanukkah assembly. My David is playing Judah the Maccabee, little Rachel is one of the eight vessels with the magic oil. She basically has to just stand there. Reminds me of my days getting trained as a security guard at Alexander’s Department Store. The guy from the old guard who was training me told me the same thing: You just stand there. He was proud of his expertise, been doing it his whole life, came second nature to him. Just stand there, that’s a skill set I can take to the bank. At least I got to wear a uniform; my little Rachel gets to wear a pretty candelabra outfit. Can’t be flammable, or we’ll really have a Hanukah to remember.
Meanwhile, Judith needs me to start pitching in more around the house. I told her I’d vacuum the downstairs and unload the dishwasher each morning before leaving for work. Which, as Mandelbaum knows all too well, is primo Kaddish time. I have to triage, is all I’m saying, and that’s why I was calling him. I mean, God knows if I had even a minute of free time I’d be chanting Kaddish up the wazoo everyday, davening my butt off, decked out in my tefillin and tallis, the whole nine yards.
What’s that? I ask him. Three times a day? Are you kidding me? They expect people to do this full-time? Who has time to mourn like that anymore? I grieve when I can, Mandelbaum. This is the information age, get with the program. Maybe I’ll just Twitter my Kaddish, 140 characters at a time. What? You’re only supposed to recite it in a minyan? Tell you what, I’ll get a friggin’ minyan together on Facebook and launch a viral Kaddish campaign. My parents won’t know what hit them.
Look, I’m sorry, Reb Mandelbaum, I don’t mean to lose my temper, it’s just that I never thought we’d start outsourcing our prayers. How do I know I’m not going to get some guy in Bangalore saying Kaddish for my parents? That’s all I need, my mother’s poor soul having to listen to some Hindu tech-support guy praying to Ram and Krishna everyday on her behalf. It was hard enough on her when I got into TM in high school. You want a mantra? she said. I’ll give you a mantra: Feh to your Maharishi! I spit on him. That’s your mantra, now eat your soup.
No, Mandelbaum, for these prices I want to be guaranteed a bona fide Yid. Or forget Yid, I want a full-on hasid who knows his alef-beys backward and forward. Line me up with one of those guys in the black coats and the curly-cue sideburns that work on 47th Street—I heard they give good Kaddish, a Kaddish to die for. Levity, Mandelbaum, levity.
Okay, so seriously, listen: I don’t mean to Jew you down on this, but here’s what I’m prepared to offer: I’ll take one Israeli Kaddish for my father, but only once a day, and the regular, three-a-day U.S. plan for my mother—does that come with a Continental breakfast?—and if you can throw in a little something extra for my Uncle Sid, may he rest in peace, we can talk turkey. And while I have you on the phone, since there’s no way my ungrateful assimilated kids are going to be saying Kaddish for me, can I possibly pre-arrange something with you now? You take reservations? Put me down for three-a-day, eleven months, with the option to renew.
What if you die first, Mandelbaum? You got back-up? Tell you what, if you die first, what the hell, I’ll say Kaddish for you, at cost, straight, across-the-board wholesale rates, whatever the market will bear at the time of death. Didn’t see that one coming, eh? I’m not a man without heart. Just do me a favor and don’t mention it to my parents if you run into them up there. I can already hear my mother: For Mandelbaum you said Kaddish, for us you hired out? So maybe a little white lie if you see her, it wouldn’t kill you.
Suppose I pay for a year of Kaddish for my parents, and I get laid off? Suddenly I got time on my hands, I start reflecting, I uncover another layer of grief, have an epiphany, and I start saying my own Kaddish for them, three times a day, even. Will you prorate me or does it get deposited in some sort of Kaddish account? Could you maybe transfer it over to a different prayer, because as it happens, I have some very serious atonement needs that are falling through the cracks, and I’m wondering if you have any Yom Kippur specials?
Eliezer Sobel is the author of Minyan: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken, winner of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel, and The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist’s Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments. Visit his website www.eliezersobel.com