The Last Whatever.

I’ve been thinking these days about the last whatever.

The 25th anniversary of my becoming a bat mitzvah has encouraged people to put together a video montage with photos, videos and mp3s of memories from my childhood to the present – to share at a cocktail party in my honor (shameless plug: please RSVP here or to make a donation). I wanted to submit a picture of me and my dad of blessed memory – our last picture together – with that grin of a smile on his face – and the thought brought me to tears. It doesn’t take much these days.

Add to this the pain of another mass shooting – 17 lives brutally cut short – and the surrounding conversations with mothers around me whispering (they, too, with tears in their eyes), “give your child an extra kiss tonight, make sure you hug them before you say goodbye at school. Let them know how much you love them before you tuck them in at night.”

I am not tucking my kids in tonight. They are not even sleeping in my home with me. When I dropped them off at school, I knew I might not see them until tomorrow night. That’s what happens when you get a divorce.

The collision of my father’s last photo, the finality of this mass shooting, and saying goodbye to my kids at school without tucking them in – all gives new meaning to the last whatever.

The thing about the last whatever is that you never know it’s the last until it’s…the last. You never know if something is the last hug, the last photo, the last embrace, touch, kiss, conversation, smile, breath…whatever. You never know. Until you know. And when you do know, the pain takes your breath away.

The parents of all of these children didn’t know the last whatever would be the last. And, I am outraged and appalled that our government and society continue to let more last whatevers happen – shooting after shooting – innocent child after innocent child – when will this madness end?

But here is what I do know:

We’ve become desensitized. It’s become the norm. Last whatevers? We shrug them off as if to say “whatever!” Because we feel ignored and unheard and, quite frankly, because the pain of more last whatevers has made us numb to the point of suffocation. It’s no longer “if” it happens again, but “when” it happens again, and we all live in fear, worried that next time…it might be our child.

And so we squeeze them even tighter. We look into the their eyes a little deeper. We love more fully – things we know we should do anyway.

Let this be our last…”whatever.” The last time we soon forget before moving on. The last time we don’t speak up, the last time that we feel the need to worry about giving or expressing our last whatever.

 

 

It’s 10 pm and I feel like…

I woke up this morning to the sound of…was it my cell phone alarm? Or was it my toddler? I have no idea. Because I can’t even remember. Because this morning seems so long ago.  It’s 10 pm and I feel like I’m just starting my day.

If I recall from the recesses of my foggy-mommy brain, I think I was up at 4:30 am, probably after going to sleep at 1 o’clock.  “Read book, Mommy!” My head must have fallen as I dozed off with that “what are you thinking?”  look on my face. But the early-morning snuggles were oh, so, worth-it. God, I love this kid.

I put her back in her crib, tried to squeeze in a couple more hours of zzzzzzz before the tip-tap of my 4-year-old’s feet were heard across the floor. “I guess I need to get up,” I thought to myself. And then, it’s…off—to—the—races!

Getting dressed: This one surprises me with the clothing that she chooses for her day.  Pink from head-to-toe! And that one wrestles me as I change her pull-up and…ouch! “Did you just punch me in the eye? You’re not even two!”

Breakfast: This one likes her dried Special-K red berries on the side. And that one likes them in her milk. This one could benefit from a straw (she’s not drinking enough milk these days!) and that one yells because it’s her straw, the one we got at the last Barnum and Bailey Circus. (I know, sue me for taking my kid there!). Oh no! I’ve got to unload the dishwasher. For now, I’ll just put the stuff in the sink. I’ll get it tonight, after the girls are in bed. If I don’t fall asleep first.

Teeth brushing: Let’s use the Magic Timer app (I highly recommend). This one gets to select which character to use, and that one gets to press start. I notice a moment of tenderness, as the older one gets the younger one’s toothbrush ready.  I celebrate the moment by giving both of them high-fives! But the moment doesn’t last long because one begins flailing her toothbrush, mid-brushing into the air, spit and used toothpaste gunk landing on the mirror and on my face. These are moments when I can truly only laugh. And we do. Together. That look in their eyes is oh-so-amazing.

Somehow, and don’t ask me how, it takes 20 minutes to put on our shoes and coats. The older one reminds me to take the teacher’s aide Christmas gift, because he’s there that day. How does she remember this stuff?  Don’t judge that it’s mid-January and he’s getting a Christmas gift now. Or the fact that I’m a Jew giving a Christmas gift…let alone, a rabbi giving a Christmas gift. Oy vey.

Speaking of rabbi, after managing to get them to school, I finally arrive at my desk. There are still boxes of Chanukah things that need to be stored away for next year. I know; it’s January. I’ve got some time to check email, touch base with the other staff, get some things checked off of my to-do list, schedule 5 bar/bat mitzvah meetings, 12 coffee and lunch dates, not to mention begin planning for my future classes. I’ve got a webinar scheduled mid-day, so at 11:52 am I hit the restroom and run into the synagogue kitchen to raid the fridge and check out the leftovers situation. Eight minutes is surely enough time to use the bathroom and put some egg salad on a plate.

“Rabbi, while you’re here…can I ask you to look at something?”

“Rabbi, I have a quick question for you.”

There go my eight minutes.

By 12:04 I’m at my desk. Late to my webinar. Although I’m so used to being late, I actually loathe being tardy.

Webinar finished. Then off to meet with more staff. I’ve got 32 minutes until my next appointment – with my older daughter. I have to figure out how to pick her up to take her 1 block away to dance class without the younger one seeing me. I need the younger one to stay there because I have to get back to work.

Mission accomplished!

Off to dance. Juggling tights and leotards and hopefully I remembered a healthy snack. Then back to work after dance-drop-off for a 4 pm conversation with a new member of our community. Mazal tov; welcome aboard!

Eventually, at school pick-up, I spend another 20 minutes (not really, but it feels like it) getting coats back on my kids to walk across the street from school to home. My work day is kinda “over,” but I haven’t really left my job.

After our normal routine of taking off our shoes and washing our hands, we proceed to the kitchen table to set-up for dinner. “Mommy, I think the table is still dirty from breakfast.” I looked across the table. Yes, baby doll; you are right, indeed. I didn’t clean-up from breakfast. Once soggy Special-K flakes had now become one with the kitchen table. I used my thumb nail to pick away at the gross-ness.  Ouch. I cut myself. Really? Who cuts herself on a Special-K flake?

Dinner, teeth-brushing, story-time. More wrestling to get dressed, this time in pajamas. And I need to put cocoa butter on one because she was burned in June from MY boiling hot cup of tea that I was drinking. In June. I’m always off on my seasons, as you can see. The wrestling feels like 40 minutes. It must have been 7. Still…seven! She knows she’s tantalizing me so she begins to laugh, that magical smile of her eyes and her delicious cheeks. And I begin to laugh. And I realize how genuine both of our belly laughs are. We can’t stop laughing…together. Pure joy.

As I’m close to putting the one in bed, I peak at my digital clock from the other room. 7:54 pm. I’ve got 6 minutes until my next meeting; I’m calling into this one.

Eventually, eventually, kids are in bed. I’m late (clearly) to my phone meeting. But I do this and suggest that- and in between one comment and another on my phone meeting, I’m able to wipe up the smeared blackberry from my floor. I hang up the phone, answer some more emails and realize…

It’s 10:00 pm and I feel like I just started my day.

I feel like I can finally sit down and…I don’t know. Do whatever I want. If only I wasn’t so tired. I will inevitably fill the next three hours: with laundry, as I change into my yoga pants, but fail to do yoga or run on the treadmill. What’s for dinner tomorrow? What did I forget to do today? I’m sure there’s something.

But as I sit for the first moment of quiet in this hectic day, I feel the biggest sense of peace and calmness. I’m not just starting my day. It’s not about “my” day – what I can get done when the kids are finally asleep.

It’s 10:00 pm and I say to myself, “I just had the best day of my life.” Through the flying toothpaste and the Special-K flake injury, I say to myself with great happiness…

“I would want no other life than this one.”

 

 

Kaddish for a man I never knew

It was a Monday. I woke up early to get dressed, turn on the electric yahrzeit light and grab my tefillin so that I could go to shul to pray and say Kaddish, a memorial prayer, for…a man I never knew.

That man was my grandfather.

Each year I do this on the Hebrew anniversary of my grandfather’s passing. After my father died, I felt an obligation to recite this special prayer on behalf of my father, who would recite it for his father. But I never knew my father’s father. He died when my dad was 16. My dad would say: “you weren’t even thought of yet!”

I grew up in a very small Jewish community (we were the only practicing Jewish family). When it was time for my father to say Kaddish, he called up fellow community members and asked them to join him for a short service so that he could say this memorial prayer for his father. (We need 10 people for a minyan, a prayer “quorum”). Afterwards, my dad invited everyone to the local diner for breakfast. He enjoyed over-easy eggs, home fries, and dry rye toast with butter on the side. He liked his tea hot, full to the top, and with lemon.

There I was rushing to synagogue on Monday as if by rote and obligation, strapping my younger daughter into her car seat so she could join me. Why was I even going?

During the Torah service, the rabbi asked me if I wanted to chant the memorial prayer for my grandfather. I responded: “I’d love for you to say it.” I’m always saying it for other people, so it’s nice to be on the receiving end.

As I vocalized my grandfather’s name in Hebrew, I realized that it is the same as my brother’s Hebrew name, which felt uncomfortable. But that’s what happens when grandparents die before their grand-babies are born.

And then someone said it, first in English and then in Hebrew:

“May you be comforted only by good memories.”

“Good memories?” I thought.  “I don’t even have any memories.”

The only memory I have of my grandfather was of him standing in an old picture from the 1950’s or ’60s, one that was blurry at best. I clung onto that image, one which I probably saw only a handful of times and decades ago.

“I don’t deserve these blessings.” I thought. “I didn’t even know him.”

Just as the rabbi was finishing up the recitation of the Hebrew prayer, my daughter, who was resting on my hip, began saying “potty.” And so we rushed to the lady’s room. We missed most of the prayers that morning. In fact, by the time we got back, we made it just in time for the final Mourner’s Kaddish. I almost missed it completely. But, her timing had a way of making it work.

I held my daughter on my right hip as I said Kaddish. She nestled into my neck, thumb in mouth. Her closeness to me felt all-consuming.

And then it dawned on me.

I can’t remember if I vocalized my thoughts or if they were only internal, but I found myself saying to her:

“Someday, you’ll say Kaddish for me, baby…”

The intersection of my daughter’s presence and saying Kaddish for my grandfather – the connectedness of the generations…that was the way in which my grandfather’s memory comforted me. That was the way that we honored his memory, too.

Someday, maybe, my daughter will take her daughter to shul and say Kaddish for my dad, a man she would never know. And when her baby nestles into her neck, I hope she realizes that even without actual memories of her grandfather, she has the wherewithal to bring his spirit alive.

Doc McVoter

My plan all along was to do it at the end of my work day. Just another thing to get done on my to-do list. At certain times during the day – in the morning after daycare drop-off and in the middle of my work day around lunchtime – I thought about changing my plan just to get it done sooner. Just to cross it off my list. But I didn’t. I stuck with Plan A – to take my daughter with me to vote.

When I picked her up from nursery school, she greeted me with great enthusiasm. “Yay! We are going to vote!” I remember taking both of my daughters to vote with me about a year ago for the presidential race. I took a picture on the steps of borough hall that day because I thought that we’d be making history. We still did. Would today feel as weighty?

On the car ride to borough hall, we talked about who we’d be voting for this year. This led to a conversation about the difference between towns, states, and countries. It was pouring rain when we went, so the task carried extra challenges: slipping on rain boots in the backseat of the car, balancing the giant golf umbrella over the car door and the roof to cover me while I clicked the harness to her car seat into place. In the parking lot of borough hall, the umbrella blew away. While I unbuckled the car seat, my daughter grabbed onto the umbrella tightly with her hands: “Here, Mommy; I’ll hold it for you.” I remember thinking to myself: “I’ve done something right.”

In order for both of us to stay dry, we had to get close to each other under the umbrella and as we approached the steps of borough hall, with my arm around my daughter, I felt a rush of energy over my body as if the wind took the breath out of me. I felt the energy of the women before me who fought so that I could vote. So that I could take my daughter to help me vote. I started to cry.

I had this moment where I was at a crossroads. Do I burst the bubble of my daughter by explaining to her that girls and women didn’t always have the right to vote? Or, do I allow her to soak it all up with great pleasure and ignore the reason why I was crying?

“Thou shall teach your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

“You know, honey, this is a privilege that we have to vote. At one point, women were not allowed to vote – which was not right, but we are really lucky that we can today.”

This led to a conversation about what privilege was and the importance of equality, which led us, most importantly, to… “I voted” stickers.

We were greeted by a woman smiling at us. We walked up to the table to sign-in. More women. I looked at the other table across the room. Only women there, too. I commented to them about what I was just explaining to my daughter. And then I noted that all of the volunteers were women. Oh wait, there is one gentleman “manning” the voting booth to my right. I smiled at him and waved.

I signed in. My daughter already won over the hearts of the volunteers and got three stickers — perhaps one for each female in our house?

We stepped into the booth. I explained the different races to her.

“What’s this button, Mommy?”

“Don’t touch that yet, sweetie. We press that when we are finished.”

I asked her for her opinion about the yes/no ballot questions. To a four-year-old, these answers come easily. If only…

I had a moment in the voting booth where I thought: “my, this is taking a long time. I hope there is not a line forming behind me.” But then I said to myself: “this took me so much longer, but, my, was it so worth it.”

The long way is often more difficult, but so rewarding on the other end.

When we got home, my daughter gave an “I voted” sticker to her younger sister, who proceeded to play with the sticker, place it on her shirt, and then smack-dab into the middle of Doc McStuffins’ belly.

The sight was so beautiful. You go, Doc McVoter. Way to be, girls.

Today we voted. Together. And my, was it a glorious experience.

Birthday wind.

3.2.17

Today the wind was incredibly strong.

It was so strong that it woke me up at night. The leftover autumn leaves rustling, the trees howling.

The wind was so strong that even my heavy, black trench coat flapped up and down, exposing my legs to the winter cold.

It was so strong that as I traveled the 10 strides between the car and the door at daycare, my baby instinctively nestled into my neck as soon as it hit her chapped, rosy cheeks.

The wind was so strong that the cardboard and plastic bags that sat in our porch recycling bins were found donning our winter green grass and covering the flower beds where spring blossoms are already blooming.

Today is my birthday.

I awoke this morning to messages of love and happiness: wet kisses from my children; text messages, chock-full of emoticons; private messages through Facebook; emails; phone calls; cards in the mail; thoughtful gifts and gifts of the heart.

Whenever I heard from a particular person, I paused and thought about the relationship that I had with them. We might have connected through high school majorettes, or perhaps at a college fraternity party. We might have a shared history of love, of loss, of family, of joy. Whatever our connection, I thought about the impact that this person had on my life. And I said to myself: I am who I am because of you…and you…and you. Thank you.

Like the strong wind on a cold winter’s day, I cannot help being influenced by each person that is blown into my life. The ebbs and flows of my cell phone notifications, with one more message, with one more contact of admiration showered me sporadically throughout the day, like the wind blowing back-and-forth. What would I do with these messages? What do I do with life’s messages? How do I deal with the strong wind?

Because my birthday is at the beginning of March, the weather is always unpredictable. Sometimes the flowers have already blossomed and sometimes there is snow on the ground. Sometimes I am wearing my bulkiest winter coat, sometimes it’s so warm I can almost wear white – even before Memorial Day.

My birthday wind teaches me to be flexible.

I never know when I go to sleep the night before my birthday what the weather will be like, who will contact me, who will remember me. But I am ready and open. I can be influenced by each person’s love, to be receptive of their kindness, to be walking with life’s strong winds, instead of against them.

I cry at the thought of people calling religious organizations and nursery schools with bomb threats. I am angered when I think of people painting swastikas on buildings and defacing tombstones in cemeteries, full of the souls of people who once were.

But today is a day that reminds me that I cannot push against the madness in the world around me. My birthday is a blessing to call me back to me. It’s a reminder of my former self that was crafted by so many of you. And, it’s an invitation to my future self to not push against the hate and the pain, but to embrace the possibility of hope for a better tomorrow, for what could be or might be.

Friends, family: I thank you. I love you. You have made me me. When I don’t like me, don’t worry, I won’t blame you. But when I love me, I will indeed thank you.

Birthday wind: thank you. I don’t always like you. I sometimes resent you blowing in my face, especially when I have no choice or when I least expect it. But thank you for the challenges you give me. I am me and I will be a better me in the year to come, because of you.

Sanctuary

After dropping my daughter off at daycare yesterday, I drove into the city. I was asked to sit on an interview committee for a rabbinical school candidate and I happily obliged. I rarely get into the city these days but when I do, it’s chock full of memories of the six years when I lived there.

As I crossed over the GW Bridge, I was brought back to the time when I used to say “hello” to my leftover IVF embryos that lived in a Manhattan fertility clinic freezer – even when I had already moved to Long Island. I always found it fascinating that perhaps the genesis of a second child resided there in the city, without me. Those embryos never helped me conceive a child, but there’s something about crossing the GW that always brings me back to those thoughts.

As I sped down the Henry Hudson, Route 9A, I noticed that I had one hand on the steering wheel and one hand holding my travel tea mug, sipping my milk and Truvia-infused decaf tea (I like it the British way). I was instantly taken back to the first time I ever drove on this highway – it must have been about 15 or 16 years ago. Back then, I held onto the wheel for dear life – it was my 1996 bright blue Neon, I think. My how times change.

As I took my exit off the highway, more memories flashed through my mind. Memories of my days in school, of pushing a granny cart to Fairway to buy some overpriced, fresh produce. Memories of when I would move my Saturn from one side of the street to the next, just to avoid paying for parking.

I turned onto Riverside Drive and remembered all the Shabbat walks I took, visiting Riverside Church, running in Riverside Park. As I approached the seminary, I asked myself “should I just pull into the garage or should I make a loop and see if there is any street parking?” I did a loop. It didn’t help. Rarely does, but worth a try.

After parking my car, I realized I had about 35 minutes before my meeting. I’m never this early. What would I do for 35 minutes? Would the seminary’s Wi-fi password be the same, now five years later? How many emails can I respond to in 35 minutes? After a pit-stop to the restroom, I found myself magnetically-drawn towards the Women’s League Seminary Synagogue. It was empty but somehow when I walked in, it instantly filled me up.

I took a seat in what was my normal seat back then – in the back row, closest to the person leading services, on the right side of the aisle as I faced the ark. I sat down. The cushion on the chair was significantly more worn than the last time I sat there. I set my bag down on the chair next to me. I sighed and instantly, began to cry.

This was my sanctuary.

This was the place where I had said Kaddish for a year after my father died. This was the place I led a full version of the service for the very first time, where I delivered my Senior Sermon on “Letting Go.” This was the place where I had witnessed numerous friends welcome children into the covenant of the Jewish people, where my friends showed me their sparkling engagement rings in the beautiful lighting of the sun, where I prayed for a child for myself, day after day, month after month. This was my sanctuary. My, how I have missed you.

I looked around the room. That menorah on the right side – with the tilted candle holder on its far left – still there. That schtender – the podium where people stood to lead services – still there. Those antique-scalloped light fixtures that ironically looked like treif (unkosher) shellfish – still there.

What were not there were all the memories that I have created since then: the birth of two girls, two job relocations, new sorrows, new joys.

I said to myself: “So much is the same, but so much is different.”

So much is different because I am different. I was not tempted to daven (pray) the traditional prayers. Instead I closed my eyes, breathed in and then let out a deep sigh. This is where the past can help heal the present. My body became a sanctuary within a sanctuary.

Later that day I attended services. When it came time to say Kaddish, I said it for my father – not because it was his yahrzeit (the anniversary of his death), but because it just felt right. And then I heard the most powerful Senior Sermon from one of my soon-to-be colleagues who shared about his own struggles with infertility and how we find comfort in others during times of darkness.

His words echoed through me and gave me inspiration and groundedness. It was nice to be a Jew in the pew and allow someone’s spiritual message to penetrate through to my heart.  I thanked him later. Sometimes people will never know how much their words mean to you.

This was my sanctuary. It was. It has been. And I suspect it will always be. But not because of the place that it is physically, but because of the place I allow myself to be there spiritually.

Hallmark Card for Me

I bought myself a birthday card today.

This is not something that I normally do, but something that was a no-brainer for me to do, at least today. I suppose there are a couple of reasons why I bought it.

Let me start here: My birthday is not until March. And it’s January. I am never this well-prepared. (Except for that time I planned my daughter’s February birthday party in December because I was expecting a second baby in January – but that does not count). However, buying a birthday card two months in advance? The only other time I do this is when it’s for someone else.

The card caught my eye in the check-out line at the grocery store. After I read it, I said to myself, “I love that message.”  And then I did it. I did what I would normally do. I said to myself: “who can I get this card for?”

For the very first time in my life, my answer was “me.”

The truth is this: who knows where the hell I’ll be in March. March feels like eternities away in my world right now. But at least if my January-self could send a message to my March-self, then for sure, this would be the message I would want me to hear.

I looked at the price.

$6.99.

Are you kidding?

I’m the type of woman who cuts coupons and always knows where the best deals are for certain products. $6.99? I could get a Subway value meal for less than that. But…I bought it anyway. Because…

I am worth it.

If I can’t spend $6.99 on a Hallmark card to love myself then who can? Then who will?

Truth be told: it’s not the card that matters – at all. But it’s the conversation that I had with myself about the card. It’s about practicing self-love and self-worth through the card.

I believe so many of us try to find ways of taking care of other people or worrying about other people that in the process, we lose ourselves. We forget about ourselves. And, ironically, the moment that we lose ourselves is the moment when we are inauthentic in our relationships because we lack the self-worth to be “enough” for those around us.

I love this card and its message, but as I look at the blank card staring before me, I wonder:

Do I write myself a message? If so, do I write what I need to hear now? Can I even predict what words I will need to hear then?

Or, do I leave it blank? Might the absence of words say something even more powerful?

Birth day.

I called my mother on the day that my daughter turned one year old. Decades prior, my mother had given birth as well, on the same date.

“Happy birth day,” I said to my mom.

“Happy birthday,” she replied.

“No, mom, happy birth day. Birthing day.”

My mom laughed. We had a moment. Even if it was over the phone.

I’ve always had a thing about birthdays, but it wasn’t until I was a mom myself that I really understood the miracle of bringing a new life into the world. To the person for whom we celebrate the day, the day is really about marking time, but for those of us who were around on the actual birth day, each year this birthday takes on so much more meaning. I see and feel that meaning now that I am a mom.

Just one year ago, there I was, calling our emergency “babysitter,” a family friend, to watch our older daughter as we prepared to go to the hospital.  As the doula rubbed on my back and I tried to scarf down some tapioca pudding in between contractions, I kinda knew what was in store for me, as I had done it before, but…you never know.

I remember waking up the day before, one Saturday morning, with contractions. As a rabbi, I was supposed to officiate as a student became a bar mitzvah that day, but naturally, someone else was on-call. After I woke up and the contractions subsided, I decided to head to services anyway. Hell, if my water broke or something, right on the bimah (the stage), well then…we’d just deal with it.

But that didn’t happen. My contractions went away, just for the duration of the service, then started up again after I went home. I gave birth early the next morning. Even though I was five days past my due date, sometimes things happen right on time.

On my baby’s birthday, I will always be connected to my mother and all the other mothers who experience the miracle of birth. Somehow, I don’t remember that pain. I know it was bad, but can’t really describe it in hindsight. That’s because when I look into my baby’s eyes and when she nestles into the space under my chin, I thank God for the miracle she is and I know that whatever I went through was…nothing, nothing at all. In those moments when my baby cuddles with me, my heart is so full and nothing else matters.

Happy birth day, Mom.

Happy birthing day to me.

And happy birthday to my baby.

Kaddish with the Kids

Today is my father’s yahrzeit, the Hebrew anniversary of his death. It’s been nine years. Normally, on my father’s yahrzeit, I rearrange my schedule to say Kaddish for him, the prayer that we recite on such an occasion, praising God. Normally, I go to synagogue three times: once in the evening, again in the morning, and a third time in the afternoon to ensure that I say this prayer three times over the course of the Hebrew day. Normally, this is on my calendar months in advance and I commit to nothing else so that I can spend a few minutes with dad, and maybe, if I’m lucky, a few minutes with God.

This year is different.

This year, I have chosen to do something else.

Mind you, this decision is somewhat unusual for me, especially those who know me well. During the year after my father died, I remember how I feverishly jumped through hoops so that I could recite the Kaddish prayer every single day. When I was away from a Jewish community, I had a team of friends who were near a synagogue who would say Kaddish on my behalf. (I still have their names and the dates they said Kaddish for me marked in my Bible, next to the psalm that I read instead). There were literally dozens of shuls where I said Kaddish, in several states. In the city, I would run up and down on the Manhattan A-train stairs, just to get to services on time, sometimes with just a moment to spare, sometimes even at the tail end of the prayer. Sometimes, admittedly, I would even say it on the streets of NYC when I was fairly certain that there were ten Jews around me. They didn’t even know they were participating in a minyan, a quorum of Jews necessary to recite this prayer.

I became addicted to Kaddish. I became addicted to this aspect of the Jewish tradition because my world was so torn upside down. At the time, Kaddish provided me with so much meaning and an opportunity to heal. Sure, it was nice to be with other people, standing next to other men and women who felt my pain as well, as they said Kaddish for their loved one. Sure, it was nice to cling onto this routine, as my world was in utter chaos. In fact, when I said my final Kaddish during that year, it was painful to let go of this prayer. I remember sponsoring a breakfast that morning, with fresh bagels and schmear, after services at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where I was studying to become a rabbi. And the tears that I let out as I said that final Kaddish, with the words so vividly escaping my lips, somewhat by rote, somewhat by an act of God because I did not want to end them…well, those were powerful, too.

But I was literally driving myself crazy to get it all in. And, looking back, at least this year, my experience feels a little different.

Growing up, I was the “perfect child,” or at least I was held to that standard. My father, of blessed memory, grew up with such a challenging childhood, literally wearing the same clothes every day to school, not growing up with a father of his own during the most formative teenage years of his life. And so my father, with only the best of intentions, had every hope that I would be the child he never was: the one who got straight A’s, the child who was involved in nearly every extracurricular activity and received a full tuition scholarship to college, the child who picked up the pieces of a broken family after we lost my 18-year old sister when I was thirteen. Thirteen.

Needless to say, I was under a lot of pressure. I never had the courage to break away from the expectations that were placed upon me. I loved the validation that I received when I did well and this validation motivated me to do even more, to “be” even better.

But I was not better. And I was not being. I was living the life of someone else. I was living the life of this person on a pedestal who I strived to be.

So this year I will not be going to shul. I will not be saying Kaddish. I will not rearrange my schedule, though this date has been on my calendar for months now. And, no, childcare and self-care are not the issues. Instead, I will spend that time with my beautiful daughters. As a full-time rabbi and mother of two, my time with them is so precious. This year, I will read to my girls the book “Stones for Grandpa,” by Renee Londner, a book that describes the Jewish tradition of putting stones on a tombstone. This year I will light a candle and tell my daughters “Pop-Pop” stories, how he loved antique cars and tandy cake. This year, I will devour lots of cocktail weenies (one of his favorites) in his memory. This year, I will be free to do what my heart so yearns to do: turn the words of the Kaddish praising God into actions of love and praise with my children. Isn’t this what it means to praise God?

Before my father passed away, he asked me “Sun, (that was his nickname for me – long story!) when I die, will you say Kaddish for me?”

I’m saying Kaddish for you this year, dad, just a very different kind of Kaddish. Here’s to a great day in your memory with your grandbabies. I love you and miss you every single day.