My volunteer work at our synagogue this year has shifted from my much-hated role as PTA president to a much-more-fitting role as editor of our monthly newsletter. I enjoy it, on the whole. I like being the one to gather up all the photos from our events; I like hearing about what's coming up next month. I like the lists of birthdays and anniversaries; I like compiling lists of people to thank for all the work they put into this potluck or that dinner dance. I especially like putting the (very) occasional bar or bat mitzvah on the cover. (As I've said, we're a VERY small congregation; the bar mitzvah I'll be attending in the morning is the last one we'll celebrate until May or June of 2010...and will kick off a relative flood of them, five in less than six months, which will include my own Em's special day.)
But each month, there's one part of the job that makes me pause and, usually, sigh: the list of yahrzeits for that month. The list I publish is just a series of names, each after a date on the Roman calendar. Because the yahrzeits themselves are calculated based on the date of death on a Jewish calendar, they change each year, and having a published list of when a specific yahrzeit falls is a huge help, a true mitzvah.
But when I get the list, it has more information than that. Mainly, it has a notation to let the user know who in our congregation "belongs to" the person to be remembered. And, again, because we're such a small congregation, nine times out of ten, I can picture the person who will be standing and reciting the Mourner's Kaddish that week. More often than not, I know them well enough to hug or kiss them when I see them--though, since I've only been at this synagogue for a little over three years, I rarely know the person who has passed. Still, it makes me more than a little melancholy to think, "Oh, A always has such a hard time when it's time for her husband's yahrzeit," or "I remember B talking about his father during Lunch and Learn one week; I wonder how long he's been gone?"
Worst, though, are months like this month, when in addition to the "aunt of"s and the "father of"s and the "grandmother of"s there are an ungodly [unfunny pun intended] number of "daughter of"s and "son of"s. Again, these are people I know well--but not well enough to know when they lost a child, or how it happened, or what sorts of holes it left. It makes me want to cry to think that, sometime in the middle of next month, Rachael and her husband are going to say kaddish for their son, that Trudy is going to say kaddish for a daughter I had no idea she had. I wonder if, for them, it helps or it hurts to have to observe this annual, ritual, mourning. And I try not to image what it would feel like if it were me.