Thursday, August 13, 2020 -
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One + one ≠ two

Any writer for a public forum naturally wishes his work to be read as widely as possible. Although I know it is unrealistic, I would urge those with one or more living parent not to read further. Why get a glimpse of the pain to come?

The yahrzeit, or anniversary of death, of my father fell this week.

This in itself was not likely the cause for more memory than on any other yahrzeit. After all, it was the 45th one. Max Goldberg died in 1972.

However, this yahrzeit was the one, the only one, that would ever fall during the year of mourning for my mother, of blessed memory. This confluence will never happen again.

A couple of months ago I was speaking to a friend in Seattle and somehow this came up. He was recalling the recent yahrzeit of one of his parents during his year of mourning for the other. It was heavy, remembering both at once. A “double whammy,” he said.

I was already curious as to how I would feel on the yahrzeit of one parent during the year of mourning for the other, but my friend’s recollection set my mind in a certain framework. One plus one equals two. However difficult it is to mourn one parent, it would be twice as difficult to mourn two.

It did not work out that way.

First of all, I found that could not control my memory. I had no power to will a thing. I could not predetermine what I should recall, or how. I could not map out a strategy of remembrance, to any degree.

Second of all, I was so surprised. It has been a year of mourning; whatever else life and work have brought, they have been suffused with searing sadness over the loss of my Mom. If ever a moment came when I thought I might mentally escape the sense of my 100-year-old Mom’s absence, it took no longer than the next of the three prayer services I was to lead the same day to bring me back to reality. I thought this would continue during the yahrzeit of my Dad. I would need to work to bring him into my heart and soul. After all, he died 45 years ago and Mom died 10 months ago.

As I say, it turned out that I was unable to undertate any work of memory on my own. Rather, memories flooded over me. Their power, timing and content were utterly beyond my will.

And what flooded over me were memories of my father. They were unbelievably vivid. I felt as though he were right there in the same room with me, and we were speaking. I enjoyed it utterly and ached immeasurably for knowing it was not real.

The pervasive memory of my Mom did not crowd out the memory of my Dad.

I suppose, though I cannot be certain, that the great gap between the passing of my Mom and Dad, both of blessed memory, had something to do with this. The observance of my Dad’s yahrzeit is well practiced, embedded in my soul. His yahrzeit has spanned almost double the number of years that I actually knew him. His yahrzeit is impossibly bittersweet: the vivid memories, which simultaneously bring him close and accentuate his absence. His yahrzeit is so difficult, yet when it is over I miss it deeply for the sense of closeness to Dad that it brought.

The memories of Dad suddenly overpowering me occurred only on the evening of the yarhzeit. The next morning, viewing the graves of Mom and Dad next to each other,** memories of Mom and Dad balanced each other out, but also in a way that did not reflect the experience of my friend in Seattle. Only some of those moments were “heavy.” Others were buoyant, as I realized that my parents, each in a very different way, had given me my professional career, my way of contributing to the Jewish community and to society in general. In these moments I was overwhelmed by gratitude.

Next year will mark 75 years since Max Goldberg, orphaned at age seven, acquired the Intermountain Jewish News for $1 as it was bleeding its owner, the predecessor of the predecessor of JEWISHcolorado, with red ink. Miriam Goldberg ran with this legacy upon her husband’s death, expecting no slack as she operated in what was then a man’s world, carrying the IJN to new heights.

<em>Kaddish. I have recited it countless times by now, like every mourner for a parent. The words come pouring out with great focus — sometimes total focus. That occurs, at the least, on a yahrzeit, all the more so if the yahrzeit falls during the period of mourning for the other parent.

Kaddish. Its words convey the greatness and the inaccessibility of G-d, Whom we paradoxically access when we recite the Kaddish.

Rabbanan Kaddish. Its words convey the importance of the students of the Torah. These, then, are the two ideas in the Kaddish: the greatness of G-d and the greatness of Torah study.

Like the memories of Dad on his yahrzeit, the Kaddish overwhelms me. Kaddish both robs and reveals an utter absence of will in remembering what the Kaddish says not a word about: the deceased. In my case, on one day this week, a day never to repeat itself even if I live as long as time itself, I recited Kaddish for one parent and remembered the other, knowing that Kaddish says not a word about either. I hoped G-d remembered both.

May the memory of my father and mother continue to be a blessing.

**I viewed them from the distance of the cemetery fence, since as a kohen I do not enter cemeteries.

Copyright © 2017 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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