Orphaned, or: Reborn

In the summer of 2018 I was unexpectedly reborn as an orphan. Shabbat ended with the setting of the Jerusalem sun on July 7th, and after a brief closing ceremony at home I turned on my computer to learn that my Papa was lying intubated at a hospital in America. Shortly afterwards, his heart stopped.

Jewish tradition holds that we are to recite a special doxology called the mourner’s kaddish upon a parent’s death every single day for the duration of one year on the Hebrew calendar. For other loved ones, we are to recite the mourner’s kaddish for only 30 days. Much ink has been spilled over why our parents receive the greatest honor.

Part of an answer can be found in the original Hebrew, as the term “mourner’s kaddish” is actually a mistranslation. The correct translation of “kaddish yatom” (קדיש יתום) is “orphan’s kaddish”. You see, this version of the doxology was originally intended to be recited in honor of either of one’s parents after they died. It was only a later development that mourners were also permitted to recite it for their spouses, siblings, and children, and even then only for a duration of 30 days. According to Jewish tradition, therefore, one takes the status of an orphan upon the death of either parent, even if the other is still alive.

Rainbow veiled by night
Arching across creation;
Painting soul anew

The above haibun is my take on d’Verse’s ‘Happy New Year!’ prompt. We were to write about some new beginning that we’ve experienced. Obviously, I took this in an unexpected direction, but, well… it’s real, and I was thinking about Papa because yesterday was his birthday.

We were directed to write a classic haibun, including a traditional haiku, which entails the following:

  • A haibun includes 1 to 3 prose paragraphs that must be a true accounting, not fiction,
    followed by a traditional haiku which MUST:
    • be nature based
    • be three lines (5 – 7 – 5 syllables OR short-long-short)
    • have a direct or subtle relationship to your prose paragraphs: enrich the prose without condensing or summarizing it
    • include a KIGO (word or phrase associated with a particular season).
    • although only 3 lines in length, it must have two parts including a shift, an added insight. Japanese poets include a KIREJI (cutting word).
      • BUT there’s no linguistic equivalent in the English language therefore punctuation creates the cut: we can use a dash, comma, an ellipsis, an exclamation point. Sometimes it’s simply felt in the pacing or reading.

57 thoughts on “Orphaned, or: Reborn”

  1. Very well done David. I found your story most interesting. I am sure you miss your father greatly. Yes, we all end up orphans once again in a matter of time. I love your Haiku!

  2. What a beautiful haiku! Your father shines through you in your posts. ✨ I also felt this when reading your earlier post about yesterday being his birthday. All the best this year, friend! 💕

  3. Very powerful writing, David: it must have been very difficult to learn of this sudden loss when living so far away. Interesting to learn some Jewish history too and the traditions related to mourning. Thank you for sharing!

  4. nice to hear of your traditions, and a birthday always sparks memories!

    I’ve never been sure if our prayers assist the deceased in any way but I know that they are most soothing for us to have a ritual to perform in their remembrance.

  5. Thank you for the explanation, and your touching haiku. I’m sorry for your loss.
    I did not have a religious upbringing, but we’ve been enjoying Zoom shabbat with our daughters. My mom died of Covid in April, and we have never had a funeral or memorial for her.

    1. Merril,

      … I… am so sorry to learn of your mother’s death. Traditionally, the Jewish response I’ve learned to give to mourners when somebody dear to them has died is: “Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet” – which means “Blessed is the True Judge”. I’m not sure how much I buy into that idea, but it helps me to have something to say when no words of mine seem to be appropriate.

      I did not have a religious upbringing either, and neither did my wife. We come from a combination of secular Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds… we just both happen to love Jewish tradition.

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your personal story. I deeply, deeply appreciate it.


  6. I know of this tradition through my friends–we are all of an age , losing our parents in the last 15 years, and too many, also siblings. The mourning process for those you love, especially your parents, never ends. You’ve given me new insight into these devotions. (K)

    1. I’m so glad that my words resonated with you, Kerfe.

      I have personally found Jewish mourning traditions to be very rich, and I am thankful to have them in my quiver, so to speak.


  7. Now THIS is precisely what the prompt calls for. Clear and grounded prose and a marvelous, appropriate closing haiku.

    And that photograph? WOWZA!!!

    1. In the game Dungeons & Dragons, I suppose my alignment would be considered “lawful-good”, and my class would be “poet” 😉

      Thanks so much, Ron!


  8. The rituals of death all have a purpose, though sometimes it’s hard to know who they benefit—those grieving, the religious organisation or the dead. They certainly give us something to do at a time when our thoughts are in chaos. Strict rules about who gets what and for how long are harder to understand, like for Catholics, why should some dead people get out of Purgatory quicker than others just because someone has paid for more Masses to be said for them? Whatever gets you through it. I hope it’s working for you 🙂

    1. Jane,

      I don’t really believe in the metaphysical impact of my reciting kaddish for Papa, and he wouldn’t have either.

      But I do believe that it was greatly comforting to me to engage in my kaddish project that year, which was based upon the ancient Jewish tradition of reciting kaddish for one’s parent (regardless of what other people think and have thought the function of this doxology may be).


      1. No, I guessed that.

        I wish there had been some kind of ritual that went beyond the burial ceremony for my parents, like your kaddish prayers, that would have been in my hands.

        We had a wake before the funerals, as we did for my grandmother and great-grandmother, a paying of respects that went on most of the night. But the wake is unorganised, outside church rules. The Church takes death away from us, takes the body and assigns words and gestures to the disposal of it, then that’s that. We go home and forget about it. Get on with our lives as they say.

        I can imagine that having a ritual to perform every day would be helpful, and who’s to stop you saying it for all those you have loved for as long as you want?

        1. You know, even though technically we (Jews) traditionally only recite kaddish for non-parents for 30 days, those people who want to recite it for longer are pretty much always permitted to. Nobody stops anybody from reciting kaddish in any mainstream synagogue – mourners are pretty much always given their space. And, yes, having a daily ritual was incredibly comforting for me. It changed me.


  9. David, so beautiful and helpful… and I have to say, the haiku caused the “god-shivers” in me… thank you for sharing all of this.

  10. Thank you for sharing this haibun; for teaching me about a Jewish tradition. I found this informative and emotionally touching at the same time. The haiku is beautifully done and is the perfect ending. I truly enjoyed reading this.

  11. Thank you for sharing the tradition. Your love and respect for your father comes shining through. Well written!

  12. I imagine there is much healing grace imparted through these prayers. So nice to read and reflect on this ritual’s power.

  13. Oh yes… losing a parent is indeed leaving you alone… sometimes transforming you into the elder of the family, sometimes simply the sorrow of losing them. Thank you for the little lesson in Jewish traditions

  14. Thank you for sharing this most interesting tradition. Such a beautiful way to honour those that have loved and cared for us…and I really enjoyed the imagery in your haiku.

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