We spent the past week at the home of a very dear friend. His father had passed away and he was sitting Shiva (the 7 days of mourning following burial). The Dad was there, in part, to help make a Minyan in order for him to say Kaddish. A was 85 years old and had lived a full life that included his wife (his beshert – Judaism’s notion of a soulmate – who had passed 25 years to the day prior), 3 sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His death, however sad it was, was not unexpected or shocking. The visitors to the Shiva house observed the celebration of a life well-lived and the loss of a truly loved man.
Why am I telling you this? Well, the entire process has me pondering Judaism, conversion and my own family’s mortality. Morbid, I know, but here we are. My mom passed away in 2007, a few years before I became a Jew. Therefore, I had no obligation to sit Shiva or say Kaddish (Kaddish is a hymn of praises to God found in the Jewish prayer service. The central theme of the Kaddish is the magnification and sanctification of God’s name – Wikipedia) for her. In reality, since neither of my parents are Jewish, I’m not actually obligated to sit Shiva, say Kaddish or observe Yahrzeit (the annual observance of the Jewish date of their passing) for them at all. However, this seems… Wrong. While my dad is, thank Gd, still alive, seeing my friend mourn his own father got me thinking about what I would do in the same situation – hopefully many, many years down the road.
In Judaism, parents have the longest mourning period; 12 months. A spouse, child and sibling are just 30 days. It is the obligation of a child to sit Shiva, observe Sheloshim (30 days of mourning following the burial), say Kaddish every morning and evening for 11 months (the idea being that nobody should have been “bad” enough in life to require having Kaddish said for the full 12 months of mourning) and observe their Yahrzeit each year. As a female and a convert at that, the obligation does not really apply to me, but whenever Gd says that my dad’s time here on earth is finished, will I not be mourning? Will I not be sad? Will he not need someone to say Kaddish for him to help him leave the earth with a clean conscience? Since he isn’t Jewish, is he less deserving of having his Jewish daughter honour him the way I would if he were? Would I observe just sitting Shiva? Sheloshim? The full 12 months? Attend Shul in the morning and evening on his Yahrzeit? I’ve never really felt that far removed from who I was before I was Jewish, but this – my first existential crisis as a Jew – has me wondering how best to honour the man who gave me life when he is no longer with me.