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. 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.


  2. 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.

  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. 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! 💕

  5. 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!

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