I have sung my Kaddish many times for others who have requested it. And I have received messages from all over the world thanking me for writing it, and singing it, and also for the fragment of a teaching by Reb Shlomo Carlebach, may his memory be for a blessing, which you can hear before we start the chant on Kirtan Rabbi:Live!
My long-time percussionist and friend, Shoshana Jedwab, sometimes talks with her wife, Rabbi Jill Hammer, about what we might call their “inverted bucket list.” This list, rather than detailing all of the things they would like to do before they kick the bucket, instead says: “If I kicked the bucket tomorrow, what have I done to this point? What have I given? What’s on that list?”
Now, Shoshana was a real doubter when I leaned over to her one Saturday morning at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue in Manhattan — right after the loud organ and voices of the Rabbis rang, Y’hei Sh’mei Rabba M’vorach, l’olam u-l’olmei almaya! — and said: “I’m going to make a kirtan out of that!” So, I was gratified when several years later, after we had performed it together countless times, and after it had been recorded twice, that Shoshana said of the Kirtan Rabbi Kaddish that it had made her and Jill’s bucket list. “Jill and I were talking last night; and we decided, were you to kick the bucket today, you have given the Jewish world and beyond your kaddish.
This all comes by way of saying that while, quite by chance, a kaddish emerged from my harmonium, I have always sung it for others — to help them. It was always a bit abstract: I got that it worked, but I did not know how; nor was I fully inside it, perhaps. Last night was the first time that I have ever sung this kaddish for my mother, for someone close to me, within the shloshim, the 30-day period of mourning, no less.
Frankly, I was not sure I was going to be able to hold it together. But, thanks to the community in the room and the singers on stage, we did. I got it. It went, for me, higher than it ever did before. I felt like I had the first direct conversation with my mother, since she passed two weeks ago this evening. I felt her soul safe, held, risen. And I also felt all of the other souls — most immediately, those souls related to others in the room, and then, spiralling out from that, the community of angelic beings who get to sing day-in, day-out to God: Yitgadal ve’yitkadash Sh’mei Raba, who get to praise God’s great name, and elevate it, and lift it, and rise it up, and bless it, and all of the other 200 eskimo-snow-like words we have in Judaism for being grateful and thankful for this life and for the even more blessed one after.
Thank you all for singing with me over the years. And especially for singing this Kaddish. May its melodies and words continue to help many as we struggle to see an earthly loss as a heavenly gain.
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya-aseh shalom. Aleinu, ve-al-kol-yisrael, ve-al-kol-yoshvei teivel.