Yesterday evening I hauled my tired self over to the evening minyan (quorum of 10 Jews needed for prayer) at my congregation, Shearith Israel, to say kaddish on the 8th anniversary of my Aunt Ellen's death. I'm not a regular at this prayer service, but living in Atlanta, far from family, I've taken it upon myself to remember my Aunt Ellen -- the eccentric and complex older sister of my mother, who was married but had no children. Ellen absolutely doted on me and my siblings, and the end of her life, when it came, brought her back into my life. It was not a pretty thing.
When I got to the synagogue, there were 6 others in attendance, and I made 7. Two others were there simply to say kaddish for their father. In this Conservative Jewish shul, 10 adult Jews are necessary for the service to proceed. The minyan leaders (all volunteer members of Shearith Israel) pulled out their cell phones and started calling around to find a few more Jews. No luck. There had been a death in the congregation over the weekend and many synagogue members were at the home of the bereaved family for the shiva observance, where a prayer minyan is also customary.
So I said I'd drive home and get my son. That would bring us to 8. And everyone else would keep making phonecalls.
Well, Gabe was not a happy camper about being drafted for a minyan. He was still getting over a bad springtime cold and had a hacking cough. I just ordered him into the car saying it was his responsibility as a Jewish adult, and as my son, to STFU and get his sorry butt over to the synagogue. He didn't have to open a prayer book or even his mouth, for that matter. But his simple presence would make it possible for me and for others, to fulfill our obligation to our loved ones.
When we got back to Shearith Israel, a man and his young son were coming up the steps. And then came another man, with a dog in a carrier! They ambled into the chapel and now we had 10, plus a dog. Gabe refused to put on a kippah and wouldn't open a prayer book, but he mumbled the parts of the service he knows and stood by my side for the next 20 minutes while we sped through the mincha (afternoon) and maariv (evening) liturgy.
At the end of the service, all the men shook Gabe's hand and thanked him for coming. The two women saying kaddish for their father, expressed their gratitude. And so did I. I'm not sure he really knows what he did by "just showing up," but it was powerful.