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Kaddish, Revised

How I mourned my dad a decade after blowing off my biggest obligation to him

In late 2006, I flew to suburban Detroit to see my dad in hospice care in my childhood home. I was eight months pregnant. The TV screen crackled with a videotape of my latest sonogram. The fuzzed-out image of a fetus was as close as my dad would get to seeing his grandchild—a parting shot in a life punctured by irreconcilable loss. A rabbi was visiting, too, making the rounds of congregants staring down the ends of their lives. My dad introduced him as Rabbi Nevins; Rabbi Nevins urged me to call him Danny. I gave him the side-eye. I figured him for a young clone of his predecessor, an artifact of the old school who had run our Conservative shul on the principle that children—and their parents, and most other congregants—should be seen, not heard. That older rabbi had officiated at my bat mitzvah and my brother Paul’s bar mitzvah and both of our confirmations. And yet, when my brother died suddenly at age 16, that rabbi seemed not to see the extreme circumstance as occasion for warmth and a delicate touch. Within days of my dad dying, Rabbi Nevins changed my vision of what a rabbi can be. Ten years later, he changed my vision of what mourning can be—and not just for me. Today, the country faces a grief crisis. Mourning has gone awry for millions. But mourners have also met the challenges of the pandemic with innovation. Jews, for their part, have embraced online Kaddish, outdoor Kaddish, atheist Kaddish, and more. What worked for me was something else—something I never expected, at a time I never anticipated.

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What bracha do I make over losing my ovaries? Weeks before surgery, I searched for the right words to mark the moment.

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