Kaddish as Magical Incantation

The worst news is that nobody is going to get out of this world alive, but I don’t like to advertise that. My own grandchildren are very conscious of death. Noam, at four, told me “You see, Bubie, life is so great and so wonderful and that’s why I don’t want to die, because when I die I won’t be alive anymore more for all this.” I like to emphasize how great and wonderful life is so that children want to live. I think we can tell children anything, we just have to hold their hands when we do it.

What in the Jewish tradition shapes my thinking on these things? For one thing: Kaddish. Saying this mumble jumble formula whose words we’re better off not understanding is like a magic incantation that gives strength and pushes out the tears. I go to our little Conservative shul in Nice and love to sing heartily with the community, but when I look at the words about God resuscitating the dead and healing the sick, I feel that I am in fairyland with the elves and gnomes. Mostly I remember my grandmother saying “toyt iz loyt” (Dead is dead!) and believing her more than I believe the siddur.

Susie Morgenstern was born in Newark and became a French writer through the accident of falling in love in Jerusalem with a frog prince. She was the first French nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award for the body of her work.