Excerpt from Living Kaddish by Sarah Niebuhr Rubin


The following short story appears in our Spring/Summer 2020 which we’ve decided to share not just with our paying subscribers but with our full community free of charge during these astonishing times. If anyone wishes to make a donation, it would be appreciated.

“Our child has been gone eighteen years, Aaron,” Becky whispered as the grandfather clock down the hall began intoning the traditional Westminster Quarters — four notes per quarter-hour. He didn’t answer.

Then came the chimes to count the hour itself. With the first, Aaron slid the keyboard to the back of his desk. With the second, he lifted his glasses to his forehead. With the third, he rubbed his eyes. As the clock chimed onward, he moved to the closet and pulled out the box, settling back down with it on his lap as the final note of the noon chimes rang.

At 12:01pm, he flipped through the papers — his will, the car title, Becky’s death certificate with the ink more than twenty-five years dry — until he came to the thin manila envelope addressed to him in Sam’s bold handwriting.

He turned the envelope over at 12:03pm, to find the email stapled over the flap. An email that had arrived on a cold September day eighteen years ago, to the minute.

Aaron had recited Kaddish, the traditional mourner’s prayer — Yitgadal veyitkadash, God is great and holy — daily as he sat shiva for Sam a full seven days, then weekly throughout the requisite year, and annually for seventeen yahrzeits since that dreadful email. Now here it was again, another year gone by.

Tomorrow morning he would go to synagogue to recite Kaddish for the eighteenth year. In the evening he would drag himself out again to Selichot, a service of prayers petitioning — pleading — for God’s forgiveness in advance of the new Jewish year.

God can only forgive sins against God, not a sin against a man. Even after eighteen years.

“Life, Aaron,” Becky said. “Eighteen is Chai. Life. No more mourning.”

Aaron looked up, a protest on his lips. Becky had been dead longer. True, she wasn’t gone. Nor had she ever suggested he move on from her.

The photo of them kissing under the huppah on their wedding day caught his eye. That moment had held such promise — as had the moment of the photo next to it, a family portrait, Sam at a year old wearing overalls and smiling that toothy smile he’d never been able to resist. Beside that was a drawing Sam had made for him one Father’s Day. She must have been about ten when she drew this portrait of him, a book in his hands, his mouth open as if reading, his face remarkably expressive. Aaron wondered at the innate ability Sam had shown for capturing emotion.

He turned back to the email in his hands, let his eyes trace the words. Again.

Click here to read the rest of Sarah’s story and our Spring/Summer 2020 issue for free.

Sarah Niebuhr RubinSARAH NIEBUHR RUBIN believes in improving the world one relationship at a time. With an MA in anthropology and rabbinic ordination, Sarah enjoys learning about other cultures and expanding her own. She lives with her husband and son in her native Seattle, where she writes from a place of love. Twitter @WriterMeRSNR www.sarahniebuhrrubin.com

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