It is a Friday in Michigan in mid-November. I am planning to visit my (unbeknownst-to-me dying) mom in the hospital in New Jersey, just as soon as I get back from my trip to Sl Segundo and San Jose to audit two defense contractor sites the following week.
A newly arrived e-mail asks whether I can audit some landfills on the east coast. While I am reading the e-mail, my boss walks into my office, an intense look on her face. (I didn't even know she was in Michigan - she works in Boston). I look up.
"Respond to the e-mail and tell them you can go," she says firmly. My billable hours have been low. I need the work.
After 4 1/2 years for this firm, I have never been invited to do any work near my folks.
"Absolutely," I say.
It's Thanksgiving week. I'm sitting shiva at my parents' house. I'm not supposed to be working. But I've got a new I-pod touch in my pocket and I'm receiving e-mails from someone in the Manhattan office all day long. By Friday, three audits have been scheduled. The colleague I've been paired with to do the landfill audits is Australian. Thanksgiving and shiva mean nothing to him. It's all set. Next Thursday, I'll be auditing a facility that treats petroleum contaminated soils with bacteria that eat petroleum.
I get up from shiva on Monday. Gonna work in one of my company's offices in New Jersey. Lets try Cranbury.
I do a search. There's a minyan map available on line. There's a kollel (essentially a post-graduate religious school for married men) about a mile from the Cranbury office. Great.
It's Tuesday. I go to my dad's synagogue for morning services. I go to the Cranbury office to work, about an hour from my folk's house. The Cranbury Kollel has afternoon services at 2:10 pm. I call to verify there will be a minyan and that I will be able to get in (what do I know?). No problem, I am told, after telling the young man on the phone that I need to say kaddish for my mom.
I get there at 2 pm. After trying a few different doors, I enter the building and ask where mincha will be. I am led to a bais medrash. There are maybe a half dozen men of various ages learning in pairs. It is a big room with many tables and shtenders (lecterns). Religious men like to pray while standing at lecterns where they can rest their prayerbooks. I have brought my own pocket-sized prayerbook.
Everyone is wearing black suits, white shirts, and black hats. I am wearing cargo pants, a plaid shirt, and a fleece vest, and a camo baseball-type cap. I have a beard. Everyone else has a beard. I fit right in.
Before I realize it, the place is now full and at exactly 2:10 someone starts leading the davening with ashrei. I get to say my kaddish. A few men come over and welcome me. I shake their hands, say goodbye, and go back to the office. I'll be able to say evening prayers after I get back to my parents' house - there's a late evening service (9 pm) at my father's shul.
It's Thursday. I am supposed to pick up my Australian colleague at 8 a.m. the train station near Edison, NJ. The minyan map says there's a shul with four different starting times for morning prayers, 5:50, 6:30, 7:00, 7:20. Great. I plan to get there for the 6:30 minyan.
Notwithstanding my GPS, which is excellent, by the way (I have a lot to say about GPSs in future posts), I get there at about 6:40. Too late. I ask where the 7:00 minyan will be and I am shown the way. A big room with a lot of tables, each of which seats about four. Three tables are occupied. They are all talking about various subjects they are studying - from a distance it I can see it ts all talmud. They are dressed more American (for lack of a better word). They are studying before work (whereas, at a Kollel, studying is the work).
It is 7 a.m. Nobody has budged. My tallit and tefillin are on now. Many others have put theirs on as well. But nobody has parked himself at the lectern in front of the room. I look around - a trickle of men have been entering since I arrived and there's at least 20 people present. I see an older man, long gray beard, black hat, studying with a more casually dressed 20-something. Maybe he's the rabbi. (Probably half of them are rabbis, but he appeared to be the person to talk to.)
Pointing to my watch. "Excuse me, sir, but isn't there going to be shacharit at 7."
The rabbi grimaces slightly and smiles. "Well, yes there is. Is there a problem?"
"My mother died last week and I have to say kaddish. And need to be somewhere at 8 o'clock."
"Hmmmph. Well, this is the kollel minyan. It is very slow. It won't finish 'til 8."
I must have looked pretty dejected. He gets up, says, "Don't worry. I'll get you a kaddish."
I have no idea what he means. He comes over to my table. Morning services still haven't started.
He starts saying something from a prayerbook. It's too fast for me to follow except the last sentence: "Hashem chafetz le'ma'an tzidko yagdiltorah v'ya'adir." He looks at me and mouths the words "kaddish."
"Whichever one you want."
I say a mourner's kaddish.
He then says something else, too fast for me to follow, followed by that look. I say another kaddish. The leader of the minyan starts. I say the first kaddish with the minyan, and then proceed at my own pace (as fast as possible) to say the rest of shacharit. I finish and leave without hearing the torah reading.
One of these days I'll need to learn about this kaddish stuff. There's some magic words which, if said and heard in the presence of a minyan, trigger the saying of kaddish.