essays kaddish in two-part harmony

another kiddish for our kaddish

Mira, your writing and thinking and worldview blow me away on a regular, delightful basis. This is me saying in front of God and everybody what an honor it is to be your collaborator.


When your Precious Daughter commented that she was shocked you told the tale of your inheritance, I knew exactly how she felt—both her astonishment that you told a tale publicly that she and I had both thought were only for our ears, and her opinion that you wrote it so well.

I am repeatedly blown away by your ability not just to write brilliantly, but to write about things like this for the whole world to read. Your encouragement and example have influenced me, obviously, and you have enabled me to do some of that myself, e.g. my piece on domestic violence, and other pieces that I now have in the hopper because of your gentle pushes, because of our ongoing and multi-layered conversation, and because of the ways you clarify and expand my thinking and worldview.

Mira, your writing and thinking and worldview blow me away on a regular, delightful basis. This is me saying in front of God—yes, the one neither of us believe in—and everybody what an honor it is to be your collaborator.

When we started this project, way back in November, you and I had never met. We had only exchanged blog comments, midrashim on Kaddish on our personal blogs, and a few email messages. But somehow I knew that I wanted to collaborate with you, and I woke up one morning with the germ of an audacious proposal. I spent the day figuring it out and describing it to you. That night you took me on and finished shaping my half-formed idea. You titled it and spelled out essential ground rules, chief among them, “This must not become a tyranny, as in, oh shit, I have to write a kaddish meditation today, what a bummer.”

We’ve kept that rule. Most of the other rules have bitten the dust, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t good rules. They’ve gotten us this far.

A day or two later, you wrote Eichmann and made it clear our project wasn’t going to be a sentimental pile of “so what?”

Which brings up the bizarre beginning of a resonance that has enveloped us from the start. I had awakened in the middle of that night from a dream in which you had written me a poem that I suddenly knew—in my dream—had changed everything, and I was pissed. I didn’t know how your poem went, but I knew you had beaten me to something important, and my waking task was clear: I needed to write the poem first.

But when I woke up, I couldn’t figure out what the poem was supposed to say, so instead I picked up my iPhone, turned to your blog, and found Eichmann. You had laid down your gauntlet. It was a brilliant essay, and I was pissed. I started writing email with my thumbs:

I awoke from dreaming you had written your Kaddish meditation for today already. In my dream you’d laid down your gauntlet, and I was grappling with my response already.

I was not happy with you. Your tactic was to challenge me immediately with figuring out whether I am going to play Kaddish in a mood that responds to your words.

I’m still trying to get my air back around these notes. I still haven’t figured out how to finish the page without hearing from the condensation. I still haven’t figured out some of my breathing and much of my pacing. I’m barely able to get these notes to say one damned thing, and already you’ve challenged me to get them to say something even harder. How do I respond to your challenge, to that challenge—to that challenge, already?

Already I am perplexed by my assignment, perplexed by not knowing who assigned it (did I?), perplexed by who is call and who is response.

Did you start this? Did I?

I never sent the email. Instead I played my response in that night’s kaddish—the first of quite a few angry Kaddishim I have played so far in this project.

I was pissed, but I was also thrilled. In a few short days we’d gone from strangers commenting on each other’s blogs to partners in a yearlong daily project, and any fears I might have had that you were only good for a few days’ banter vanished. I knew that you were the collaborator of my dreams, who would push me as hard as I would push you, and together we would create something newer than either of us alone could have imagined.

We’re coming up on the six month mark, and you’re still surprising me.

I still haven’t written the poem.

But look what has happened, Mira! I was emotionally constipated—stopped up with death and grief (and work anxiety), and your blog was full of death and dying. You hated the music for the longest time, and I hated playing it for just about that long—my playing wasn’t working. But we hit a stride in our writing, and slowly we realized we were there for each other—we two strangers were actually doing this, day in and day out. We were taking care of each other, too, and people were starting to gather here with us.

Eventually I persuaded you to lend your voice to the podcast, to put our “two-part harmony” title to work, and that’s when the music started working. You started liking it, even! In the next month, we met by phone, and in the month after that, we finally met in person—and that opened still more doors. Now we’re collaborating in person, live sometimes; you’re teaching me Hebrew; I’ve met Mrs Tzaddik; my wife and I sat at your seder table, and our dog pestered your dog.  And this fall we’re giving a paper together at an anthropology conference!

Somebody pinch me.

Because here’s the really strange thing, Mira. We are two self-described non-believers who are enacting a modern, eccentric twist on a sacred ritual, and it’s working. We have together been facing our grief and coming to terms with it, and together we have been coming back into life, humor, and joy. I can hardly recognize us. We are not the two dour mutterers we were last November. We’re still exploring death, dying, and grief, and people haven’t stopped dying, but—

Well, what? It’s not that it’s getting any easier to say goodbye or watch devastation or look into the face of a friend’s grief. But death is starting to feel integral to life, and other things are changing along with the coming of our spring. I can feel it. Blood is moving again. Sap is flowing again. Rivers are running again.

The richest magic of our collaboration is that others have joined it. We have not been doing this alone. So many have joined us here, sharing their sorrows and contributing their thoughts, their yizkorim, their essays, their music, and their ears; changing this from a collaboration of two writers into a gathering place, a community.

I can’t imagine how much else will have changed when November returns, but I do know what I will be doing on our Yahrtzeit: I will be standing next to you, Mira, holding your hand, thanking you for taking mine, and hoping you’ll agree to the next project, and eighty or ninety more after that.

Another kiddish for our kaddish.

By erin

Erin Vang, PMP, BMus, MMus, is Owner and Principal Pragmatist of the consultancy Global Pragmatica LLC®, offering custom JMP scripting, localization program management, and facilitative leadership services. She is also an orchestral horn player who freelances in the San Francisco Bay Area and plays assorted brass for the celebrated dance bands Midnight Smørgåsbord and contraPtion. More about Erin…

One reply on “another kiddish for our kaddish”

When we started this project (on a whim, I might add), I was immersed not only in the death and dying of others, but in my own. There was nothing really left to do but dig myself a hole and throw myself in. And I worked very hard at that. I thought my job really was to just take care of my own burial (and all that other messy stuff) so that my kids wouldn’t have to deal with it. And yes, I found a beautiful spot in which to lay my body down.

There was nothing but death and dying swirling around me. Hospitals, tests, wheelchairs, caregivers, walkers, medicines, appointments, paying for it all somehow. Until you came around.

I don’t know how you woke me from this nightmare, but you did. You even woke my mother, with a shock. The beauty and generosity of your horn shook her to the core. Putty in your able hands! Seeing life — and hearing it, most of all.

We call this a mitzvah.

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