The Loneliness of Yizkor When You’re a Young Woman

Photo credit: Kevin Skobac

Photo credit: Kevin Skobac

With the month of Tishrei upon us, the mourners of Zion are in the midst of a Yizkor double-header.

Jewish mourning liturgy is dauntingly public. In most communities, the mourners stand and recite the prayers aloud or silently, while the rest of the congregation exits the room or sits and waits until it’s over.

Reciting the Jewish prayer of mourning, Yizkor, and its sister, Kaddish, has always been a lonely endeavor for me, because I’m a woman and many daily minyans still cater primarily to men. Even though more women have adopted this tradition in recent years, we are nevertheless an anomaly.

There’s another layer to my solitude. I’m always the youngest mourner—by far. I was 21 when my father died. Seventeen years on, I’m still young to be doing this.

5 comments on “The Loneliness of Yizkor When You’re a Young Woman

  1. Fran Rosenblatt Samuels on

    Not that it’s a competition, but I have been lighting yahrzeit candles, leaving stones on gravestones, and attending yizkor services since I was six. I didn’t have company in my sorrow. My brother was eight years old when he went to shul every morning before school for an entire year to say Kaddish for our dad. None of the men even acknowledged him, a little boy desperately trying to be a man. My mother, a Holocaust survivor, lost a daughter by the time she was twenty-one. There were far too many women like her, none of whom had the opportunity to properly mourn. They carried their pain in their hearts. I am sorry for Ms Takefman’s loss and her ongoing grief, and I am sorry for her feeling a lack of community. I must say, however, that few things have made me feel as isolated, misunderstood or lonely as her notion that her “youth” in mourning makes her unique. She should have known better at twenty-one; she certainly should know better now.
    Frances R Samuels

  2. Melanie Takefman on

    Dear Fran, I am very sorry to hear your story. What a tragedy to lose a parent so young. Regarding mine, nowhere do I state that I am unique in the grand scheme of things. I describe *feeling* alone because I did not encounter others like me in my shul mourning experiences. I wrote this piece specifically to reach out to others who are in my situation – this was stated clearly in the text. Perhaps you should read until the end. With best wishes, Melanie

  3. Fran Rosenblatt Samuels on

    I did we didn’t till the end. More than once. I understand that you felt you were reaching out, but I also got them a very strong vibe that you thought you were the only one. Everybody has a story. Perhaps you should keep that in mind when replying to your readers.

  4. Ronit Weldon on

    I lost my mother when I was 20. That was 19 years ago. During that first year, I tried to attend the conservative congregation where my father worked, along with my brother and father. I can relate to being the youngest, but while it was mostly men and I wasn’t included in the minyan, there were other, much older women saying kaddish. I’m still one of the youngest at yahrzeit and at yizkor services. But now I only attend egalitarian services, where there are many other women and where we are part of the minyan. I certainly notice when there are younger people standing up, and acknowledge that life is fragile and precious at any point. Now I feel held when I say kaddish. I’m also now a mother myself, and I feel that preciousness of life daily in my bones. It’s hard to imagine being able to attend daily services, when I have parental and work responsibilities, the egalitarian shul doesn’t have daily services, and there are no shuls close to me where I now live.

  5. shana deane on

    i’m sorry it’s so hard. my egalitarian shul is also limited… only friday and saturday. at least to be blessed with that. an invitation: i have found these very nourishing and easy to fit into a busy schedule: weekly kaddish calls from Lab Shul every thursday at noon.

    Weekly Mourner’s Kaddish phone call – every Thursday at NOON EST – for the benefit of those of us who find attending synagogue/minyan a challenge for any number of reasons and yet wish to take time in honoring loved ones with a community of like minded souls. Also a way for friends and family to stand in solidarity and care with mourners. This is an experiment in virtual ritual reality.

    How it works: those of us reciting Kaddish in memory of loved ones gather on a free conference call, share our names and reason for kaddish, read a poem and learn a brief sacred teaching together, and then recite the Kaddish together. 30 minutes or so – depends on how many of us get on the call.
    Please join the Lab/Shul’s Kaddish Club Google Group to RSVP.
    Call into the free conference call number: 641-715-3296, Code:978294#

    Click here for a PDF of the Mourner’s Kaddish with transliteration and translation.

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