The holiday of The holiday on which the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem is commemorated through fasting and prayers., the 9th of Av, compels us to see boundaries differently—instead of separating out personal loss from communal loss … we compact grief into one uniting experience
As the first season of Kaddish comes to a close, I reflect on a year of hearing the stories of mourners, recording them, and editing them into nine podcasts. There has been a stark tension between the deep heart work of interviewing the grieving, and the technical editing and storyboarding and audio leveling of their words. I know that it is possible to love and empathize with another without taking on their pain. It is possible to learn where our own selves stop and the other’s begin. In rabbinical school they taught me how to not cry at a funeral, how to stand from the The stage or platform on which the person leading prayers stands., give the hesped (eulogy), and make emotional room for the the krovim (close loved ones) and the mourners.
The holiday of Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, compels us to see boundaries differently—instead of separating out personal loss from communal loss, marking on different days and seasons, we compact grief into one uniting experience. Tradition teaches us that on this day in the calendar, centuries apart, the following tragedies occurred: the 10 spies lied about the conditions of the land of Lit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel. (as told in parshat Shelach); the first temple was destroyed; the second temple was destroyed; the Bar Kokhba rebellion was quashed; the first crusade was launched; and more.
What is to be learned by compacting tragedy into one moment? Is there a way that grief pinging off other grief allows us to go more deeply into our own experiences? I wrote the following poem/prayer as a love letter to the “ghosts” that have lingered in the corners of my home, become a part of my life through creating The Aramaic memorial prayer for the dead. Mourners recite this prayer at every service, every day, in the presence of a minyan (prayer quorum) over the course of a year (for a parent) or thirty days (for a sibling or offspring). The prayer actually makes no mention of the dead, but rather prays for the sanctification and magnification of God's name. (for this purpose, I use the word ghost to name the experience of feeling a loved one who has died present in the day to day, and the opportunity to have an ongoing developing relationship with someone after they have died). This is a letter of gratitude to the people who bless their loved ones in their remembrances. This is a permission slip for the times our boundaries slip, and our own grief seeps in when we try to keep it at bay.
I carry your family with me into the breach.
They are in the corners of my home next to the lint,
They rest on the counter as I cook soup for dinner.
During the Yizkor service, some believe it is bad luck
To stay present if one has not lost their own parents.
As if being among another’s ghosts as we move between years
Will seal your own book of life in ways you do not wish.
But we will march shoulder to shoulder in grief processional.
Say their names. Write eulogies on signs.
Listen to recordings of your voice as it breaks over memories of getting the news.
Each loss is more than just that–it is cell division.
One death magnifies to two funerals,
Magnifies to four obituaries,
Splits to 16 homelands desecrated. Each loss expands, contracts.
It is taught to us by the mourners who came before
That you cannot stay in mourning forever
But neither are you required to put your beloveds down for long.
A holiday, an anniversary, a song, a joke, and there they are
In your voice, the corners of your home, on the countertop
Watching as you cook soup.
Ariana Katz is the host of Kaddish, a podcast about death, mourning, and the people who do it. Ariana is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. She is a member of the Philadelphia Reconstructionist Chevra Kadisha, a volunteer chaplain and board member at Planned Parenthood of South East Pennsylvania, and a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council. Ariana is in training to become a soferet, a scribe of sacred Jewish text.