kaddish in two-part harmony podcasts

daily kaddish: mohammed bouazizi

Mira dedicated this kaddish to Mohammed Bouazizi, whose humble reaction to bureaucratic humiliation set off the revolution in Tunisia, which set of revolutions in Egypt and Libya.


We recorded a Kaddish at Mira’s Seder last night—about 20 people gathered together at Beit Malkhut, and we opened with Kaddish. Mira led the Kaddish text in one microphone in the dining room, and I played Lev Kogan’s “Kaddish” at another mic in the living room. Mira dedicated this kaddish to Mohammed Bouazizi, whose humble reaction to bureaucratic humiliation set off the revolution in Tunisia, which set of revolutions in Egypt and Libya.

Mira also spoke to the assembled about a Seder tradition that was unfamiliar to most of us: that it begins with “fake mourning,” with some explanation having to do with… well, I don’t remember, because what Mira pointed out was that her mourning didn’t feel fake to her. Nor did mine.

Later in the Seder, we spoke about bondage in its myriad forms. When it was my turn, I spoke of my situation a year ago today, in which I felt in bondage to grief. We had just said goodbye to our wonderful black lab, Candy Pants. A few months later, my dear love Nanc died. A few months after that, my collaborator Tina Wuelfing Cargile. After that… and on and on. The deaths were piling up. I was constipated with grief.

In October, I stumbled upon Mira’s blog at my friend Tina (another Tina)’s suggestion, and I saw a similar stopping-up by grief in her writing. And we began a project—a kaddish in two-part harmony, Mira named it.

Six months in, the process is working. The healing is happening. And as I told the assembled, I am so grateful to my wife, Victoria, for supporting this project—its daily intrustion, and the hours in which I disappear into my office nearly every day to collaborate with Mira—and to Mira, for taking hands with me in this journey that neither of us expected, which is doing its job, which is bringing joy back into our lives, and which seems to be creating a space that is holy for us and for our minyan.

This was our first Kaddish with a live minyan. A double minyan—around twenty adults were assembled for the seder, reading the text along with Mira as I played. Many of us in the room had experienced loss during the year. Beginning with Kaddish made the rest of the Seder—the contemplation of freedom from our Mitzrayim—possible.

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…

4 replies on “daily kaddish: mohammed bouazizi”

The Seder and the Kaddish Project came together seamlessly, and helped focus us on grieving (first part of seder) and letting go of grief (second part). I’m not sure it’s quite so simple — but there it was, the power of collectively enacted ritual. This felt different from saying kaddish alone or only along with Erin’s Kogan’s Kaddish. The kaddish is supposed to be recited together. And this Pesach night was different from all other nights because for the first time, we achieved that.

And that was despite my stumbling through the words, just as I had when I was a girl attending services — not quite able to get through reading a prayer without messing up. Apologies for my very imperfect recitation. I can imagine that if I ever get this right, it will be, indeed, a miracle. Thank you, chevra!

And for me this Pesach was different from all other nights because playing Kaddish for a live assemblage (“audience” is clearly not the right word; I heard someone at the table calling us instead a “congregation,” and that fits better for how it felt to me) is much, much better than playing it alone in a studio in front of a microphone with my reliable audient reciting by recording in my headphones, which in turn is much, much better than making it in a studio alone and with nobody in my headphones.

And again today, after our mini Seder (our lunch of leftovers and conversation about charoset) with your mom, playing in that magnificent space for you, your mom, and then the neighbor who entered near the end of the piece was another reminder for me of the difference in playing for people, for a live audience. I’m pretty sure I had a few clams in both recordings this weekend, bit I can’t remember them. I only remember being focused on the shapes of the lines and everything I needed to do to create those shapes.

We spoke recently about stage fright, Mira, and these weekend kaddishim are good examples of how that works for me. I think you can hear a slight tremble in my sound, particularly in the quiet opening and the long held note at the end; that’s the negative effect of adrenalin that I have to overcome. And you can also hear my greater focus, which drives me more steadily or passionately through each line, and which (when the adrenalin levels are right, as they were this weekend) makes the clams mch less likely.

These were interesting kaddishim for our subtopic here at the “Kaddish in two-part harmony” of performance vs participation. Most days early on in the project, the sterile recording environment brought pure performativity but without the adrenalin-focus brought by an audience; most days since you joined me in the virtual and then real recording booth have felt more like a practice–a daily ritual performed in a wee minyan–than a performance. These over the weekend were both performances with a live audience, but Saturday’s came in the context of a service with a participating congregation; Sunday’s in the context of playing for my collaborative partner, her mother, and her mother’s neighbor, in a house that hasn’t heard live music in far too long.

As for you, Mira, you had a far more difficult job on Saturday, both leading a congregation in readin an unfamiliar text and speaking that text into an imposing microphone–all after having gone to tremendous labor to put on a Seder and having focused our attention on the purpose of a Seder and the place of a mourning ritual at the beginning of it. And you had spoken so simply and powerfully about your grief for Galina, your father, and the grim state of health for someone important to you who had just passed along what remains of his life’s work for you to finish for him.

I have only a few times played (performed) right after speaking from the heart about something that matters, as you did on Saturday, and both times I was a complete wreck trying to play.

Mistakes are inevitable and irrelevant in this context, Mira. I assure you nobody heard anything but the importance of what you were reading.

Thank you for that. Of course, I hear nothing but my own mistakes. And at Villa Narcissus (as it was called by the opera singer for whom the house was built) (for the abundance of those flowers, I might add), if that was you trembling — then you tremble beautifully. It sounded wonderful.

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