It happened so subtly that at the time I didn’t even realize it. This week I finished my term of leading the early minyan. Kaddish continues to be an obligation for me until April 11 or so, but my time for leading the prayers is about up. I was expecting it to occur next week, when Passover starts, since it is the custom for mourners not to daven from the amud on Holidays. And then after Passover, my mourning period would be over anyway.
But I was expecting to keep going until Monday morning. What happened was that another member of the minyan lost his father last week, and after his Shiva he began leading the service. So the torch was passed rather more abruptly than I had anticipated.
So much has changed for me during this year. I entered into it in total terror. I did not know if I had it in me to persevere. I thought I would get fed up, bored, tired, discouraged, or that my work would simply prevent me from fulfilling my obligations to my father. And yet, for the past ten and a half months, I have made it to shul every day, most days twice a day, to say Kaddish and lead the services.
I realize now that saying Kaddish was much more about me than my Dad. I honestly don’t know if my father would have cared whether I made it to shul or not. He never much cared for it himself. I know my Mom and my sisters aren’t impressed. They had to deal with the day to day realities of his illness, and then the details of his death and burial, and my mother is still struggling with paperwork and hospital bills and cemetery upkeep. My loss of sleep and my daily irritation with my minyan mates seems insignificant in comparison.
But it was something that I never thought I could do. And I did. I overcame my fear of davening in front of the congregation. I proved myself to be reliable and punctual. I made myself useful as a baal koreh. My voice, which at first would crack and give out halfway through, has become stronger and louder, a benefit that has carried through to my singing. More importantly, I think I have matured during this year. I set a task for myself that I knew I would feel uncomfortable with and which in the past I have avoided and I did accomplish it.
Along the way, I definitely ruffled some feathers. My minyan mates are no doubt glad that my reign of terror is over. They can go back to davening more slowly, starting later, and not dealing with my anal-retentive meshugas.
Here’s what worries me: My plan, all along, has been to continue going to the minyan even after my year is up. I cleared most of the hurdles. I’m able to get my tuchas out of bed at 5am, take my shower, and get to shul on time. I’ve got a rhythm going. But I worry that without the specific need for me to participate, my dedication will wane. I worry that not actively leading the davening will make me bored with it. I worry that the new guy is significantly slower than me. I worry that I will start to get irritated with the slower pace, with it making me late for work, and then I will start to leave early, like I used to. And then I will decide that, if I have to leave before kedusha anyway, what’s the point of coming altogether.
Already I feel myself returning to my status as “outsider.” For years, I took little interest in the shul, because I didn’t feel like it was “my” shul. It was “their” shul, and I was a guest. Because I came once a week. Because I davened Nusach Ashkenaz while they davened Sfard. Because I never took the amud. Because I didn’t buy into the whole Chassidishe/Chareidi “program”. And this year I have taken real ownership of the shul, and this minyan in particular. I start the davening. I set the pace. I demand that people be more responsible and come consistently. I learn the layning when no one else can do it. I am the gabbai when the other guy is out.
And now I’m back to sitting in my seat, getting bored while the new guy takes over my post and starts to drone….
In a way, I think the year to come will present more challenges than the year that just passed.