So says Leon Wieseltier, author of Kaddish. Today another friend died and tomorrow the funeral will take place in Manchester. Kaddish, the Jewish mourners’ prayer will be said, as it was said today at the bat mitzvah I attended in North West London. Among the observant, Jewish funerals are arranged very quickly, which is why I may be the only member of my very small family to attend. Our friend was a good friend of my dad’s. At my own dad’s funeral I was busy and dry-eyed, so I am wondering what grief will feel like at this one.
Kaddish is not a prayer of comfort but an insistent drumbeat to sideline death and daunt you with your own insignificance. Allen Ginsberg, estranged from Jewishness, wrote this poem, Kaddish, between 1957 and 59 after the death of his mother Naomi. From it,
Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless, Father in death. Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I’m hymnless, I’m Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore
Thee, Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not light or darkness, Dayless Eternity—
Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some of my Time, now given to Nothing—to praise Thee—But Death
This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Wonderer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping—page beyond Psalm—Last change of mine and Naomi—to God’s perfect Darkness—Death, stay thy phantoms!