Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

17 Tammuz 5763 - July 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Orphan's Kaddish
by C. Regev

Part 2

Synopsis: Shloime, a nine-year-old orphan, experiences stage fright whenever he has to stand up and recite Kaddish for his mother. The arguments, back and forth, repeat themselves, and his father is at his wit's end.

"It isn't my fault that I'm not saying Kaddish. It's the fault of the people who are staring at me," he justified himself and knew what Abba would claim in response: "It's always easy to place the blame on someone else."

So why were they making this important task so difficult?


Miri was sitting in her booster seat with her seatbelt properly fastened. R' Zev fastened everyone's seatbelt and gave last-minute instructions for the long trip. They were going to visit his sister-in-law, his late wife's sister. The family had pleaded, the children had begged, and after the Seder night at his parents' house, he planned the holiday visit which he knew was not going to be easy.

Seven-year-old Gitty cracked almonds for everyone, which were bitter as wormwood in Shloime's mouth. Abba attempted to sweeten the atmosphere and burst out in yom tov songs. "Vesomachta bechagecha!" he reminded everyone in song. Then he tried, "Vehi she'omdo." His voice was hollow and Shloime tried to join in, but it was a weak attempt. Abba gave up and played them a Pesach tape. Miri completed the syllables at the end of the songs and clapped her hands.

The landscape passed by the window. All of a sudden, Shloime's vision blurred. Unclear marks of green and yellow stripes, brown and light blue blended into one another. Last year they had driven with Ima and now the seat next to Abba was empty...

The trip was painful. R' Zev didn't know how he could cope with it. Besides, today or tomorrow, Shloime's difficulty would worsen.


"I'm not saying Kaddish in Haifa!" He stamped his feet to emphasize his words. "I can't do it! In an unfamiliar place, people will look at me more than anywhere else, and they'll gossip.

"`Yes, that's the orphaned nephew of Mrs. Kaminsky,'" he said in a nasal voice. "`Poor thing! His mother was killed in an accident. They've come for yom tov to forget a bit.'"

"Stop it!" Abba ordered. "That's enough!"

And Shloime was quiet. He had another eight and a half months to say Kaddish for Ima. How would he do it? It would be a terrible nightmare, especially if he was going to wind up in unknown places. He wanted to say Kaddish, but not someplace where they'd look at him. How could he find such a minyan?


The Pesach reunion at Aunt Rivka's was almost like the good old days. There were moments at the height of an exciting game when he forgot about everything and enjoyed himself and had a good time without any hesitation.

When mincha time came, Abba and his uncle slipped on their jackets, put on their hats and turned to go to shul. Shloime's heart fell. He wished he could hide among all the other praying children, to blend in with everyone, not to be different.

The davenning ended. Oleinu leshabeiach... and Kaddish. A young boy, around his age, together with a yeshiva bochur, approached the omud and began saying Kaddish. Shloime choked and his heart missed more than one beat. His hands broke out in a cold sweat and started to shake. Their voices were clear and the familiar words were clipped and sharp.

Suddenly, Shloime noticed that he was the only one in shul throwing sharp looks at the boy saying Kaddish. Everyone's eyes were glued to their siddur or closed as if well sealed under the shutters of their lids and lashes.

"`What is hateful to you, do not do unto another!'" he reprimanded himself, and he glanced away with great effort.

The recitation of Kaddish ended, and Shloime didn't dare approach the omud. His entire body tensed and he couldn't stop looking at the boy. The anonymous orphan went outside, accompanied by his older brother, and Shloime found himself walking behind him. The boy turned around and stared at him. A look that was familiar to Shloime, even when he didn't look in the mirror. He knew how he looked when he was angry, when people pierced him with their eyes when he said Kaddish or afterwards.

"Something wrong?" the boy asked with a defiant look in his eyes.

"N-n-no..." stammered Shloime. "C-c-can I ask you something?" He couldn't believe he dared do this. "Look," he began and took a deep breath, hugging himself against the cold wind that was blowing. "I... really... what I mean is, I was glad to see that... that... here they don't look at you like that..."

The boy was silent and his older brother looked Shloime over and asked, "Why do you say that?"

"Because by us they stare," Shloime shot back quickly and coherently, after all his stammering.

"They stare at you," nodded the older brother understandingly.

Shloime held back tears and nodded. They looked at him. The brotherhood of orphans.

"What will they understand?" he thought to himself. "After all, they're here, in a place where they don't stab you with their eyes, don't gossip behind your back... They don't even know what it is to stand up in front of a crowd that each time turns to look at you anew..."

"Yes, I know," the boy his age began, as if reading his thoughts, word for word, as if they were written on his forehead. "For me, it was also difficult at the beginning. Our father died after three years of a terrible illness and suddenly, I had to say Kaddish. And everyone stared. And how they stared! Not just -- you know, glances, where they look at you for a minute - - but the whole time, following you with their eyes, and you want to cry or run away. Or both. I never thought that people looking at you could hurt so much. I didn't want to say Kaddish. My brother tried to argue with me. My mother begged me. My uncles coaxed me. They spoke to my heart, my conscience, they explained it to me, over and over again.

"`Shimi,' they said, `Kaddish is important for your Abba's iluy neshoma.' `Shimi, you have to, so just ignore the stares.' I'm a kid who always took the lead in any play and in any activity. I'm not in the least embarrassed to stand in front of an audience. But not this way. So that was the situation until one day I just got sick of it all, and after davenning, I just broke down and cried out loud. I couldn't control myself.

"I don't remember exactly what I yelled, something like I felt as if they were spilling my blood and I didn't want them to sin by `afflicting the widow or orphan.' After the tears, I left the shul and I don't know what happened next. I heard, later, that the rov of the shul spoke to everyone and since then, no one has looked. No one casts a glance our way. Even when my brother came home from yeshiva during bein hazmanim, no one stared at him the first time, and everyone treats us normally," he concluded his story, leaving Shloime devoured by jealousy.

At the end of maariv, Shloime stepped forward with resolve. He began reciting the Kaddish and no one looked. Even Shimi and his big brother didn't dare steal a glance. Only Abba cried on the side, until he reminded himself of the holiness of the yom tov and wiped away his tears.


On motzaei Pesach, Shloime's father called us and told the story. He begged us to print it as is. (We apologize if we diminished from its intensity or impact in any way, so as not to pain our readers too much.)

"It's important that the public hear the outcry of a young orphan!" he said. "The situation does not stem from malice, G- d forbid, but from ignorance. In our shul, I've already spoken to the rov and I hope that it will no longer be difficult for my Shloime to say Kaddish by us. But I pity other orphans. Still, if in only one shul the situation improves as a result of this story, or of its example, it will be to the credit of the paper, and it will also be for the merit and benefit of the soul of my departed wife," he concluded.


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