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My Faith Gave Me Strength
The Siddur, the term for a Jewish prayer book, contains a set order of daily prayers. My familiarity comes from spending years attending morning services in memory of both my husband and father. One passage references the tzitzit, specially knotted ritual fringes, or tassels, attached to the four corners of the tallit, prayer shawl worn by religious Jews. And one fringe contains a thread of blue.
The Symbolism Behind the Color Blue
There are differing interpretations as to its symbolism. Some say the color resembles the sea and the sea resembles the sky and the sky resembles God’s holy throne thus the thread of blue is a way of gaining the highest levels of spirituality.
The fringes, or tzitzit, in its simplest definition, are supposed to remind us of God’s commandments and not be tempted or seduced by your heart nor led astray by your eyes.
My Judaic Past
Until my husband passed away, while I was raised Jewish, I never studied Judaism or attended Hebrew school. My knowledge is based on the traditional holidays our family celebrates.
When we had our daughters, my husband and I agreed both would go to Hebrew school. He was raised in a much stricter religious home. I’ve always felt that children should have faith regardless of their religion. And, I to this day believe that my daughters can embrace their religion or back away; that is their choice.
Because they went to Hebrew school, we joined a synagogue. My exposure was more frequent as a result.
One aspect of our faith is the daily minyan prayers, held twice a day at our synagogue. Minyan requires a quorum of ten adult Jews for certain components of the regular service. One of these is saying Kaddish, a prayer said by mourners.
When I would pick up my daughter from Hebrew school, we would attend the evening service as they had a difficult time getting 10 adult Jews. Girls that have been bat mitzvah count as an adult. I explained to my daughter that I would need to recite this prayer for my parents one day, and I wanted to make certain I could recite the Mourner’s Kaddish.
We went for years until my daughter was driving and we stopped going. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be reciting Kaddish for my husband. But here I was, eight days past his death, ready to say Kaddish for the next thirty days.
My Days of Saying Kaddish
During those 30 days, I went from citing the prayers but still in a state of shock to actually connecting to the morning prayers. Some passages resonated so deeply within me that I would refer back to them outside of the synagogue. Eventually, I found myself really leaning on my faith to get me through some of my darkest days. One such passage states “Favor me and I am a mountain of strength. Hide your face, Adonai, and I am terrified.” To me, I needed to know that there was a plan for this journey that was suddenly thrust upon me. Leaning on my faith meant not spending every day questioning the whys or the hows. It provided the strength I needed at the time to overcome a situation I did not think I could.
When the 30 days of mourning were up, I did not truly feel finished. How was I supposed to move forward after only 30 days? So I continued to attend services, not only to make sure another congregant had the required number of Jewish adults in attendance so they could recite the Mourner’s Kaddish but also for myself.
Putting My Faith in God
As time progressed, I did find myself getting stronger and stronger. Putting my faith in God to guide me through a very difficult and challenging time in my life allowed me to transform my mourning into living.
When my 88-year-old father passed away a few years later, I once again found myself going for the daily minyan. This time, it was every day for 11 months. If I was out of town or unable to make it to services, I still said Kaddish for my father.
How Long Is Kaddish
The amount of time you say Kaddish for a relative that has passed depends on the relationship. It was explained to me that while grief is not less or more intense for a child vs a parent vs a sibling vs a spouse. Rather, parents who have given birth to children, raised them, and educated and transmitted Jewish and human values to them, are asked to mourn for the longest period of time (11 months versus 30 days). Furthermore, because I was an individual before I had a sibling or a husband or a child, my mourning period would be shorter. I was never an individual as a child myself so that is the explanation as to why a person would mourn longer after a parent passes.
During the pandemic, services became virtual which made the mourning for someone who passed a little complicated.
My Judaic faith came at a much later time in my life. That’s not to say I did not recognize my being Jewish. It is somewhat complicated because I grew up in an area with few Jews and a lot of antisemitism. But the entirety of my journey led me on this spiritual path. I even made a trip to Israel, something I never had any interest in doing previously. The one constant is that through my experience, that thread of blue has renewed my sense of spirituality. And I know that I always have my faith on the days that are difficult because loss does ebb and flow.