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The Kaddish Community I Needed

My father died this past September (20, 2023). I am blessed to be able to say that, at 52, he was my first real loss in life. And despite having worked in the Jewish community for my entire career, I didn’t quite know what to say, do, or how to do. The one thing I did know was that I was interested in saying kaddish every day for the first year – if I could figure that out. 
Elana stands behind her father and hugs him. They are both adults.
 
I am not alone in saying that I’m busy. That’s a cliche response these days to almost anything. I have a full-time job as CEO of a Jewish non-profit; I have two kids that while not living at home, still need their mom; I’m a wife, a dog-mom and I try to balance my work life with personal time for exercise, friends and alone time. As a Conservative Jew, my options for daily, in-person minyan are few. While there are some Orthodox communities that would offer me this opportunity, I knew that they wouldn’t be as meaningful for me. So I understood that online minyan would be the way for me to fulfill this mitzvah. What I didn’t understand then, but six months in, I do, is that online minyan offers me multiple communities of which to be a part – and depending on what I need on any particular day, the community that can meet that need.
 
My synagogue community offers me a space where everyone knows who I am and someone, inevitably, strikes up a conversation with me or asks me to share about my dad. Another synagogue in the community allows me to be anonymous because I can livestream so that I can’t engage, but I can listen in. My rabbi friend in Kansas insists on introducing me each time to his minyan as his former colleague and friend. And my rabbi friend in Los Angeles took a photo of me on the zoom so he could share it with mutual friends. Some minyan leaders have figured out how to welcome in new people and share their appreciation for me joining, while others have frankly not figured that out (that’s for another piece some time!). I’ve been able to listen to cantors, youth inspired to lead, rabbis and numerous volunteers who show up every day to ensure that people like me can say kaddish. And I have found MyJewishLearning which offers rabbinic wisdom in short bursts, followed by kaddish, recited by 100+ people every day; and where the leader asks, each time, to wait until the very last person finishes reciting the prayer so you can hear that last ‘aleinu v’al kol yisrael, v’imiru’ and we can be the chorus of ‘amen’ as we collectively serve as each other’s minyan.
 
It’s been a powerful experience to take that moment every day to say kaddish, and I know that much has been written about it already. Despite not being in person most days, and despite not joining the same community every day, the practice, the ritual, has been tremendously meaningful, and important for me as I navigate this grief. On days when I am most emotional, I livestream the service so that I can cry and recite the blessings without apology. On days when I am missing him and need to hear his name, I make sure to zoom in to the synagogue that invites me to say his name out loud. On the days where I’m in between those places, and I want to make sure to make time for my kaddish, I can pick the minyan that is shortest, or the most musical, or the most fun because they chat while they’re waiting for minyan to start, and/or that fits within my schedule of the day. 
Elana and her siblings as children with her father
 
I suppose that at a different time in my life, being in person every day, with the same people, would have met my needs. But today, what I need most is this online world. It connects me to Jewish tradition and ritual in a way I had not expected and that fulfills me. And for that I am truly grateful.

Elana Rivel is the CEO of Jewish Learning Venture.

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