“I know it’s traditional to say kaddish daily after a loss, but I hate going to synagogue. I’ve tried several, so it’s not just a matter of a bad match. It’s just not for me. Is there some other daily ritual that would be appropriate in place of kaddish to remember a loved one?”
First of all, I am sorry you are having a negative experience attending synagogue services. Attending weekday morning and evening services can often be a moving, meditative experience and sometimes builds long-lasting relationships. For an exploration of that dimension of the ritual and the history of mourners leading the kaddish, you might look at Leon Wieseltier’s popular classic, “Kaddish.”
That said, as you imagine, leading the community in the kaddish prayer is only one (and a relatively recent) response to the death of a parent, close relative or teacher. Saying kaddish is an expression of how the deceased’s life influenced you to join with others, ensure a minyan in the synagogue, and lead others in praising God’s name even in the face of loss. When my father, who was also my teacher and rabbinic role model, died, I dedicated the year to reading some of the books that were most important to him—in his case, the writings of Emerson, one of his favorite authors. I also began a project of reading through his files of writings and sermons. Rather than just keeping his thoughts in neat file folders, I tried to assimilate his thinking into my own and in that way preserve his memory, through me, for future generations.
Along those lines, you might consider taking on a study or charitable or social justice project that would have meant something to the one you are memorializing. What is important is that it is something you would not otherwise have done and something that you can do with some regularity, perhaps daily, perhaps weekly. And even if your beloved’s life suggests no particular project of study or action, you might select something meaningful to you—that you would not otherwise have done—that you can dedicate to his or her memory.
One final note on going to synagogue: My father, in his will, told me and my sister what he wanted from each of us in terms of saying kaddish. He knew I was a rabbi and that saying the kaddish daily with a minyan would be familiar. My sister did not have a regular prayer practice but he wanted to inspire her, even after his death, to stay connected to Jewish life. He therefore asked her to say kaddish for a year on Friday nights. She made attending that short, musical service her practice for the year and it had its impact, on her comfort with synagogues and, we hope, on the successful journey of my father’s soul.
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