A Jew­ish prayer book, from The Nation­al Library of Israel Collection

COVID-19’s descent upon us brought innu­mer­able chal­lenges, not least among them is the fore­clo­sure of our tra­di­tion­al ways of mourn­ing. Lim­it­ed atten­dance at funer­als and con­do­lence vis­its is hard for both the mourn­er and those who wish to com­fort; the inabil­i­ty to say Kad­dish with a minyan — a prayer quo­rum of ten — is one more avenue that is unavail­able to many. I lost my moth­er more than three years ago, and found com­fort in the tra­di­tion of recit­ing kad­dish dai­ly with a minyan, but I did have a sur­pris­ing encounter that may bring solace to those who have lost loved ones this year, and are unable to recite the tra­di­tion­al Mourn­er’s Kad­dish in a tra­di­tion­al set­ting or circumstances.

Say­ing Kad­dish for an entire year, as doc­u­ment­ed in my recent­ly pub­lished book My Year of Kad­dish: Mourn­ing, Mem­o­ry and Mean­ing, allowed me both the time and space to mourn the pass­ing of my moth­er — a rare gift in mod­ern times. It was a chal­leng­ing year, to say the least. I rose at day­break to arrive at the dai­ly minyan on time, and over­came my hes­i­ta­tion to say the Kad­dish out loud, but my work as a trau­ma psy­chol­o­gist sent me to far flung places where a minyan could not be found. How could I deal with that?

Up until my trip to Nepal — to com­plete a resilience build­ing project begun in the after­math of the 2015 earth­quake — I said Kad­dish with a minyan dai­ly. A few weeks pri­or to my trip, as I was con­tem­plat­ing the impact of miss­ing my dai­ly Kad­dish for the first time, I fished around the inter­net for some glim­mer of a solu­tion. What I encoun­tered was the Kad­dish Yachid, the Individual’s Kad­dish, which can be said when no minyan is avail­able. I was astound­ed. I had nev­er heard of this ver­sion of the prayer. Check­ing with more eru­dite peo­ple around me, I dis­cov­ered that they were not famil­iar with it either.

I rose at day­break to arrive at the dai­ly minyan on time, and over­came my hes­i­ta­tion to say the Kad­dish out loud.

The author­ship of this unusu­al Kad­dish is attrib­uted to the ninth cen­tu­ry Rav Amram Gaon, head of the great Tal­mu­dic Acad­e­my of Sura, Baby­lo­nia; he is most famous for his prayer book which sur­vived the pas­sage of time and formed the basis of Jew­ish prayer ser­vice tra­di­tions that evolved over the mil­len­nia. So, while the Indi­vid­ual Kad­dish, or Kad­dish Yachid, is not very well known today, it seems to have a long-stand­ing foothold in Jew­ish tra­di­tion. Why had I not heard of it?

Kad­dish is a prayer that makes no men­tion of death or loss. It is a prayer that sanc­ti­fies God, and talks about the King­dom of Heav­en. At a time of great loss we are often sent adrift, los­ing our anchor in life, in belief, and in all we hold true. Hang­ing on to the Kad­dish directs us and reminds us that God is there and we are not in charge, nor can we expect to under­stand. It ends with a request to God that he grant us peace — a peace we so des­per­ate­ly need when our hearts and souls are in tur­moil in the after­math of loss. The Indi­vid­ual Kad­dish is actu­al­ly quite sim­i­lar in con­tent to the Mourn­er’s Kad­dish, and brings com­fort in sim­i­lar ways. It reminds us that we are not alone in the world, and also gives us a time out from life to con­sid­er our loss.

One of the ways that say­ing Kad­dish alone is quite dif­fer­ent than say­ing it with a minyan is the social or com­mu­ni­ty aspect. Say­ing Kad­dish in a minyan means that your loss is acknowl­edged by neigh­bors and friends, and a feel­ing of sup­port and con­nec­tion to the com­mu­ni­ty often devel­ops. Psy­chol­o­gists have doc­u­ment­ed that social sup­port is one of the keys to resilience, and although the mourn­er may be obliv­i­ous to this in the ear­ly days of mourn­ing, as the year con­tin­ues, that sense of fel­low­ship grows. This will of course, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, be absent for those say­ing the Indi­vid­ual Kaddish.

Nev­er­the­less, doing some­thing active in the face of death, even if that some­thing” is done alone, can be very heal­ing. The Indi­vid­ual Kad­dish is just once such activ­i­ty, that may suit some, but not oth­ers. What oth­er kinds of activ­i­ties can a per­son choose to do in the wake of a loss? What per­son­al rit­u­als can be cre­at­ed and become mean­ing­ful? What­ev­er it is, whether it be the Indi­vid­ual Kad­dish, or some­thing entire­ly dif­fer­ent or unique, and espe­cial­ly ded­i­cat­ed to the per­son one has lost, this rit­u­al can help acknowl­edge the loss and allow space for the mourn­ing process to proceed.

For me as I pre­pared to depart for Nepal, I was reas­sured that say­ing the Indi­vid­ual Kad­dish — even in the pri­va­cy of my hotel room — might bring me some com­fort, and allow me to con­tin­ue to mourn the loss of my moth­er. Upon arrival in Kath­man­du, I dis­cov­ered to my delight that my room over­looked a pic­turesque court­yard filled with col­or­ful Bud­dhist prayer flags flap­ping in the wind, send­ing out bless­ings of peace to the four cor­ners of the world. As planned, I recit­ed the Indi­vid­ual Kad­dish aloud in the pri­va­cy of my hotel room every morn­ing and found it both ground­ing and reaf­firm­ing. The Indi­vid­ual Kad­dish carved out a space for me to remem­ber my moth­er, even in Nepal. I blessed her on her jour­ney — wher­ev­er she was). This con­nec­tion was pre­cious. I con­clud­ed with the tra­di­tion­al bless­ing of peace, as my Indi­vid­ual Kad­dish joined with the Bud­dhists prayer flags send­ing our com­bined bless­ings of peace to all peo­ple of the world.

Click here for the Kad­dish Yachid of Rav Amram Gaon in Hebrew with an Eng­lish translation.

Nao­mi L. Baum, Ph.D., a psy­chol­o­gist, who con­sults both in Israel and inter­na­tion­al­ly in the field of trau­ma and resilience. She is the author of pro­fes­sion­al arti­cles on resilience build­ing and trau­ma as well sev­er­al books, includ­ing, her newest book, ISRE­SILIENCE: What Israelis Can Teach the World. She lives with her hus­band in Efrat, and is moth­er of sev­en, and grand­moth­er of twen­ty one. 

Her web­site is: http://​www​.naomibaum​.com