As my father – Joseph Osterer – was getting older, my family decided that it would be best if we transitioned him to Hillel Lodge by taking him to Shabbat services there. I would pick “Reb Yossel” up at his Playfair apartment and, with the widest grin, he would turn to the doorman and proudly exclaim, “My Kaddish is here!” Laughing, he would then get into my beat up Ford Focus and promptly ask me when I bought the new car.
Joe took immense pride in leading prayers and helping first time mourners with tallit and tefillin rituals. His life eventually segued to residency at the Lodge, where, through the kindness of Rabbi Levy Teitlebaum and Issie Scarowsky, he was afforded the opportunity to participate in Shabbat morning services. He was able to recite the Torah blessings until three months before his passing on May 19, 2016.
So, when the end came, I knew what I had to do.
My Hillel Academy education a half-century ago had prepared me for this time. I was familiar with the morning and afternoon liturgy, and could recite the Kaddish prayer, although the Kaddish D’Rabanan proved more problematic.
But could I hold up for the required 11 months?
I read a sympathetic column in the Canadian Jewish News, and the author convinced me that, with some planning, it would be possible to find a minyan at least once a day.
We live close to Beit Tikvah, and given my 8 am start at Merivale High School, their early morning minyan was my only chance to make this work. Rabbi Howard Finkelstein, Cantor Yair Subar and their minyan regulars welcomed me warmly and encouraged my efforts. One quickly bonds with others saying Kaddish – William and Catherine Moss and Alan Brass became friends.
Since evening services at Kehillat Beth Israel are at a fixed time, I often attended there with my wife Sheila. We were greeted by Rabbi Eytan Kenter and Cantor Daniel Benlolo, as well as by Moe Segal z”l and Len Potechin, who were good friends with my dad. Their humanity and understanding made the first month of Kaddish so much easier.
Attending a conference in Toronto, I found minyans at the Miles Nadal JCC and at Beth Sholom Synagogue across from the Eglinton West subway station. I was able to attend Mincha/Ma’ariv services following my niece’s wedding at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in North York.
Cantor Subar kindly said Kaddish for me during a European commitment that I made with my school before my dad’s passing. I found synagogues in Rome, Florence and Venice and said Kaddish there, but not with a minyan as security issues continue to plague all Jewish points of reference, and Italy was on a high terrorist alert.
I returned from Europe and finished saying Kaddish on April 6, a day after my 64th birthday, and was called to the Torah for an aliyah. Cantor Subar, noting my Hebrew name, Yitzchak Pesach, said that the timing was highly appropriate, since Passover was approaching and Pesach is the only yom tov that is also a first name in the Jewish tradition.
I have to admit, I felt a tinge of sadness at the end – but also some pride in doing something I knew my dad would have wanted me to do for him.
We celebrate Joe’s Yahrzeit and the wonderful memories of a wonderful, kind-hearted and generous man on the 11th of Iyar. He would be pleased that I no longer fumble the Kaddish D’Rabanan.