Jewish elderly do a mitzvah for those in mourning
The funeral took place on Tuesday, and because of shul closures worldwide due to the spread of COVID-19, David is unable to join a minyan (a quorum of ten Jewish men) as he begins mourning for his late mother.
Paikin reached out for help, and she got it from a most unlikely place, Sandringham Gardens. As the only place that still has a legal minyan in the country, the elderly gents there have taken to saying kaddish on behalf of Jews locally and internationally.
For many, the most important mitzvah (good deed) they can perform for a loved one who has passed away is to say kaddish. However, it requires the presence of a minyan to be recited. The Chevrah Kadisha has made an effort to ensure that Sandringham Gardens shul is the only one in the community that continues to have regular minyanim.
Measures such as early shielding, regular screening, and the highest levels of care and precaution, allow residents to gather three times a day to daven together. Because of this, the congregation can undertake to say kaddish for anyone who needs it.
“It was a need that had to be filled,” says Rabbi Jonathan Fox, group rabbi of the Chevrah Kadisha. “At this time, people are rightly determined to be compassionate, and this is an expression of that.”
When the shielding measures were put in place, Fox realised that the home’s isolation from the community enabled minyanim to continue not only three times a day, but on Shabbat as well.
“We recognised that many in our community would be unable to say kaddish, and saw a need for the service,” he says. “We approached the chief rabbi about it, and he felt strongly that it was a chesed [kindness] that people really needed.”
A notice about the service was put out last Friday, and the response was immediate. More than 250 people have already submitted requests for kaddish to be said on their behalf. While some of them are in the shiva (mourning) period (needing daily kaddish to be recited), others require only a recitation for a yahrtzeit (the anniversary of a person’s death). Both needs are met by residents.
“Kaddish matters to people,” says Fox. “Many are so careful to say it, and it’s very special to them. For them to know that someone can recite it in a minyan when they’re stuck at home is a huge relief.
“We offer the service throughout the year for those who find themselves unable to say kaddish for any reason or have no male relatives who can say it,” he says. “Now that almost no one can get to shul, it’s important and special.”
While kaddish requires the presence of a minyan to be recited, the actual recitation is being done by two particularly devoted congregants, Jeff Klein and Shabsy Mayers. These committed men share the responsibility, each day reviewing a list of names for whom they need to say kaddish.
“I do it because I want to,” says the 84-year old Mayers. “It’s a genuine privilege for me. It’s an opportunity to perform a mitzvah in the spirit in which my late father brought me up.
Mayers, a former committee member of Emmarentia Shul, has always been a passionate Jew. When he first arrived at Sandringham Gardens, he asked to be shown the shul before being taken to his room.
“Shul and mitzvot are who I am,” he says. “I grew up involved in the shul environment, and maintained my involvement as an adult, no matter what. My life is in the shul – the Torah and Gemarah are part of me. I’ve done these mitzvas all my life, and I don’t intend to stop now.
The commitment of people like Mayers and Klein has had a profound impact on the community.
“It was a huge relief to find out that the Sandringham Gardens minyan was offering a service to say kaddish,” says Paikin. “To know that people are saying kaddish for us is such a blessing and relief. I’m grateful.”
When Robbie Brozin heard that someone could say kaddish for his late father, Max, he started sobbing. “Kaddish connects me with my late dad, and gives me comfort,” he says. “Knowing it’s being done at a unique time when I can’t say it by such special people brings me extra comfort and confidence.”
Brozin says the way we behave towards each other in times like this will define our legacy for future generations, something this initiative has made clear.
“This is the most exceptional, comforting, and brilliant initiative for the time. The speed at which it was initiated and the brilliance of it gave me confidence in the leadership and management of the Chev. In every problem, there is a solution. You just need to look for it.”
Hugh Bauer, the former chairperson of the Chev’s Helping Hands outreach initiative, observed that the roles have been reversed, with the community now reliant on the residents of Sandringham Gardens to say kaddish on their behalf.
“Too often we forget the role that our aged play,” he says. “We forget we are standing on the shoulders of giants who built this community. This is a timely reminder of how grateful we should be to them for the role that they are playing, and the role they have played in the past.
“There is an irony in this reciprocal relationship between the community and our residents,” says Saul Tomson, the chief executive of the Chev. “The community is staying at home to protect our elderly which allows our residents to daven for them in a minyan when they can’t do it themselves.”
“Hashem has turned the world upside down. Please G-d, he will reward our efforts and bless us to continue with this minyan.”
- Names for kaddish recitation can be submitted at https://bit.ly/33wnyTs