He is so Young to be Saying Kaddish

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Much has happened over the four years that have passed since Assaf (not his real name) lost his mother. His father has remarried, he has two new siblings, and he recently celebrated his Bar Mitzvah with his family and classmates from Boys Town Jerusalem.

Yet for all the joy, Assaf has borne a veil of grief since his mother’s illness and death. Beyond inflicting emotional pain, it has impaired his schoolwork, his social skills, and his independence. Light only began to shine through last year when Assaf joined BTJ’s seventh grade Special Education class.

“With no sisters or brothers, he is indeed the only child who can recite the mourner’s prayer in his mother’s memory”

Rabbi Mordechai Rosenfeld, his teacher, explains, “Gradually, and painstakingly, we’re making efforts to restore this very gentle child’s inner strength and his zeal for life. Together with Boys Town Jerusalem\’s social worker and art therapist, we’re coordinating our efforts towards meeting Assaf’s needs. Thankfully I can report that he’s advanced in every realm, both academic and social, and that he’s gaining crucial self-confidence. Assaf also takes special joy in attending the hockey and dog training extracurricular activities we offer.”

Yet, following his recent Bar Mitzvah, Assaf took a giant step on his own. The Bar Mitzvah rite of passage, when a 13-year-old assumes a Jewish man’s obligations to observe the mitzvoth (precepts) of Jewish law, held a special obligation for Assaf. At this point he finally began to observe the mourning period for his mother and to recite the memorial kaddish prayer in her name. With no sisters or brothers, he is indeed the only child who can recite the mourner’s prayer in his mother’s memory.

“For Assaf, the formal mourning for his mother is an important part of his healing,”

As Assaf first began to recite the prayer at the daily services in the BTJ synagogue, he found that he was not alone. Rabbi Mordechai Gordon, a longtime teacher in the Boys Town Jerusalem high school and College of Applied Engineering, has been reciting the kaddish for his own mother since her death this year. Hearing Assaf’s quiet, halting words, Rabbi Gordon quickly strode to the youngster’s side, placed his hand on his shoulder, and recited the kaddish prayer together with Assaf. Although separated by several generations and by stature, the student and teacher’s voices blended as one in the kaddish prayer affirming the omnipotence of the Almighty.

“For Assaf, the formal mourning for his mother is an important part of his healing,” says Rabbi Rosenfeld. “And, each time the students and teachers in the prayer service answer ‘Amen,’ we’re a part of that process as well.”

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