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A Special Request to Beth Israel Members

By Jan Lee-Thiem


Many of you know my husband and me as the Beth Israel members from Idaho. Fourteen years ago, Jack and I moved to the United States to care for his ailing mother.  We continue to remain connected to Beth Israel and return as often as possible.


But the story I want to share has nothing to do with our journeys in the States. It has to do with what has, for the last five years, been for us, a continual and enriching gift from members of Congregation Beth Israel.


Five years ago, I returned to Vancouver to bury my father, who had sustained a long and difficult battle against Parkinson’s disease. The quiet support I received from other attendees at each morning and evening service carried me through those difficult days and my first real experience in saying Kaddish. Their support and the opportunity to say the mourner’s prayer not only helped me overcome my grief, but made it easier to grapple with what I already instinctively knew was about to happen to my family.


Three years later, I found myself saying Kaddish again, this time for my older brother, who had died suddenly exactly three years to the day from my father’s death. The family was distraught, yet somehow, standing amongst my friends at Beth Israel, saying Kaddish made it possible for me to move through my grief. It was then that I learned a powerful lesson: mourners don’t say Kaddish alone. We speak as a community, and we’re heard as a congregation when we come together to recognize loss.


This summer, while visiting my mother here in Vancouver, my mother-in-law died in Idaho. It was a terrible shock for me, as it was for Jack, who due to distance wasn’t able to join me in Vancouver. As a result, I began saying Kaddish in her memory. And it was then that I learned a second significant lesson: Saying Kaddish gave me the opportunity to also support others who, like I, were grappling with loss.


As we have all discovered this summer, Beth Israel has many remarkable legacies. But the greatest of all, I think, is its daily minyan services and the support it provides by opening its doors each day to those who wish to acknowledge the recent passing of a loved one, or the day of a yahrzeit. There is something tremendously healing about that opportunity, and knowing that others turned out so you could say a prayer. 


But what I suspect many don’t know, is that the minyan services are actually quite short. On most days, they are less than a half hour. For those who want to say Kaddish but are afraid they won’t know the prayer, the siddur provides a transliteration that is easy to follow. And for those who come just to ensure there are 10 members present, the benefit of those 25-30 minutes (50 on Monday and Thursdays) are just as rewarding. According to the Conservative tradition, a quorum of 10 Jewish men or women is necessary for a mourner to say Kaddish.  Remarkably, the halachic requirement to deal with our grief also assures that we are able to give that same opportunity to others.


And, as Rabbi Infeld would tell you, minyan isn’t just for people who are saying Kaddish. I attended daily minyan for many years before my father’s death largely because I connected with its traditions. It reinforced the person I saw myself as and it expanded my understanding of Jewish traditions. And I’d be remiss in not mentioning that the breakfast that follows is always worth attending.


If you can lend a few minutes of your time – whether it’s once a week or more frequently – your presence at minyan will be greatly appreciated. Beth Israel offers minyan services twice a day, 365 days a year (please consult Beth Israel’s website for the times). Both daily services could benefit from more attendees.


To those who have unfailingly provided their support at minyan services during the last few years, thank you. To those who may chose to do so in the future, thank you as well. And to those who wish to observe a yahrzeit or to recognize a recent loss, welcome. We all benefit by continuing and supporting Beth Israel’s remarkable legacy as a house of daily prayer.