The Jewish mourner’s Kaddish prayer comforts me on my father’s passing

Monday, 24 October 2011 17:16
steinbergalanj021610_optBY ALAN STEINBERG

Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

— The Jewish Mourner’s Kaddish prayer

I have said this prayer for my father, Melvin "Moshe" Steinberg, every day since his funeral and burial. He passed away on August 28, 2011 after suffering a sudden massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was 85 years old. The recent Jewish High Holidays of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur were enjoyable for me because I attended services in New York’s Park East Synagogue, which were conducted by the world’s greatest Cantor, Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. Yet the recent passing of my father made these days a time of somber reflection for me.

Most difficult was the observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. The holiday began on Friday evening, October 7, which would have been my father’s 86th birthday. So for me, this Yom Kippur was not an easy day.

When I thought of my father during those days, so many powerful memories of events in my life came to mind. Yet there was one recurring experience that superseded all others in my memory.

When I was a child, my father often took me on Sundays into Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, the city’s most prominent Jewish neighborhood. People would come over to him and ask him, “Melvin, is this your son?” He would invariably reply with the idiomatic Yiddish phrase, “Dus is mein Kaddish.”

The meaning of this cherished Yiddish phrase is clear: “This is my son, who will someday say the Mourner’s Kaddish for me.”

And now, every day I say the Mourner’s Kaddish for my father. His prediction has come true.

I am so very grateful to the Almighty for all the good years I had with my father. He was more than a great man - he was a man of total goodness and an overwhelming warm heart. There was nothing he would not do for the best interests of his children and grandchildren. His American patriotism and his dedication to the State of Israel and the Jewish people is a heritage that is now at the core of my being.

When I say my father had an overwhelming warm heart, I may be actually understating matters. The world is full of self-proclaimed saints who have cash registers where their hearts are supposed to be. When it came to having a good heart, Melvin “Moshe” Steinberg was the real deal.

There are so many wonderful other memories I have of my father. There are remembrances of sports events – watching together the Pirates and Steelers at Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium, viewing boxing matches on television. There are the vacations and trips we took together. And there are the countless stories he told me about generations past. Thanks to my father, I can trace the lineage of my family, the Malovany/Steinberg family of Pultusk and Rozan, Poland back eight generations to the early nineteenth century.

Yet the most heartwarming memory of my father was his usage of two words when he was proud of me: “Good Kid”.

When I was commissioned as an officer in the United States Navy in 1971, my father said to me, “Well Done, Good Kid.”

When I graduated from Northwestern University in 1971 and University of Wisconsin Law School in 1974, my father said “Congratulations, Good Kid.”

When I was sworn in as Region 2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator on September 7, 2005, my parents, both children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, sat there beaming as if their American dreams had been fulfilled. After the ceremony, my father came over to me and said, “Wow, this is really something, Good Kid!”

Yet my father’s ultimate usage of the phrase, “Good Kid” happened at the Region 2 EPA farewell party for me on January 15, 2009. My son, Neil, who loved my father every bit as much as I did, planned a surprise for me by arranging for my father to fly to New York for the closing ceremony. Dad was overwhelmed by the tributes paid to me and went around the party telling every EPA career person, “My son is really a Good Kid!” steinbergs102411_opt

During the last five years of my father’s life, I called him every day. He would close every conversation with the words, “OK, Good Kid.”

Now, he is no longer there for me to talk to. I never stop realizing how fortunate I am to have had my father for so many years. His passing was hardly a tragedy. Yet I cannot help but feel sadness now that the big man in my life is gone.

Yet saying the Jewish Mourner’s Kaddish prayer at services every day is a wonderful consolation for me. For all those saying Kaddish for a parent during the mandatory eleven month period, I recommend the book, Kaddish by New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier. It will deepen your understanding of the Mourner’s Kaddish.

For me, the Kaddish, above all, serves two functions.

First, I am thanking HaShem, Almighty God, for all the wonderful years I had my father’s love and companionship.

Second, I am honoring my father. It is indeed my honor to say Kaddish for him, just as he predicted many years ago when he always said, “Dus is mein Kaddish.”

In that sense, the Kaddish is my love letter to my father. Somewhere, I can hear my father saying to me, “Thanks, Good Kid!”

Thank you, Almighty God, for the wonderful blessing of my memory of my father, Moshe Zev ben Aryeh Yoel, Melvin “Moshe” Steinberg.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.


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