Saturday, December 19, 2009

Judaism Creating Connections

By Susan Esther Barnes

On Friday night during services Rabbi Lezak told two stories about how living in Israel means living in an inter-connected community. The first one, here, talks about how the plight of Gilad Shalit, the Israel soldier who has been in captivity for three years, feels personal to all Israelis, since all of them have family members who were or are in the military.

The second story, here, is an amazing true story about the woman who is the mother of the first soldier killed in Cast Lead, who goes to a concert and by chance (or perhaps an act of God) meets a couple who named their baby after her fallen son.

To some extent these stories are possible because Israel is such a tiny country, where everyone (with some exceptions) sends their children to military or other national service. These stories, combined with something else that happened at services Friday night, got me thinking about how the practice of Judaism itself helps to create these connections.

One of the situations Judaism is particularly sensitive about is the death of a loved one. There are many customs and rituals that surround this event, and many of them create and rely on community connections. When a mourner returns home from the graveyard, he or she is not allowed to eat his or her own food. Rather, the community is expected to, and in fact bears the responsibility of, bringing food to the mourner. This not only relieves the mourner of having to think about mundane acts like grocery shopping and cooking when just walking across the room may feel like a monumental act, but it also makes sure the mourner is not alone during this critical time.

In addition, the mourner is to say the Mourner's Kaddish on a regular basis throughout the first eleven months after their loved on has died. And this prayer may only be said when there are at least ten Jews present. Again, this serves to ensure the mourner is surrounded by members of his or her community during the first year of mourning.

After the first year has passed, we say the Mourner's Kaddish for the anniversary of the loved one's death, called the Yarzheit. When worshippers come to services on Friday night they are handed a program that contains various bits of information, and on the back is a list of those in the congregation who have died recently as well as the names of those who are having their Yarzeheit.

On Friday night, I was sitting beside a couple, when another couple sat behind us. The woman next to me was looking at the Yarzheit list, and she turned to the couple behind us. She pointed at the list and said, "I see this person on the list with the same last name as you. Is this your father?"

"No," they replied, "That is our son."

"How old was he?" asked the woman.


"Oh, I didn't know."

And thus another connection was created, because when you know a couple has lost a son, an incredible tragedy in itself, and further learn the son died so young, it cannot help but create an understanding, a bond, from the acknowledgement that these people have walked through the fire and have the bravery to carry on.

And it strikes me this is one of the ways Judaism seeks to connect us. Yarzheit not only serves to comfort the mourner, but its public nature gives us the opportunity to ask the questions that bind us together, like "Who was she?" "What is your favorite memory about him?" and to make the statements that bind us together, like, "I remember him" and "I miss her too."

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