By Reverend Sam Rudra Swartz

“Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba . . .” As I realized that these words of the Mourner’s Kaddish were coming out of my mouth, my head dropped, my eyes closed and I heard wails of grief come from both me and my family. I could no longer say the words. I was sixteen years old and my father had just passed away.

Exalted and sanctified is the great name (Amen) of the divine in the world, which has been created according to divine will, and may G-d establish a divine kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen. (Amen. May G-d’s great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.)

For the first time in my life, the words of this prayer, familiar to me from prayer services, carried a heaviness I had never experienced. The sensation of saying them for my father, as I walked behind his casket, was a surreal experience—I felt like I was completely separate from my words, my body and my emotions. I felt as though I was a witness to the whole nightmarish, bitter scene; implausible, yet it was happening. I was consumed with the fear of how my world was changed forever.

May G-d’s great Name be blessed forever and for all eternity.  

The Mourners’ Kaddish, or the Kaddish Yatom, (literally the “Orphan’s Sanctification” in Hebrew) is said at the funeral of a parent, spouse, or child and is repeated at least three times a day following the burial during the period of mourning known as Shiva. Traditionally, ten Jews gather at a bereaved family’s home to provide support and to recite the prayer for seven days after a funeral. A Jewish person who has lost a relative often recites the Kaddish once daily during the next 11 months, a time of mourning and every year on the anniversary of the death.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, elevated and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, blessed be the One, (blessed be the One) beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are spoken in the world; and say, Amen. (Amen.)

Even though the tradition is to sit shiva, to be in formal mourning, for seven days following the loss of a loved one, my family did not follow this practice. My grief and anger at my father’s death was not assuaged or supported or made more tolerable by any kind of spiritual practice. In fact, I told my family that I was angry at G-d for having taken my father away and I moved far away from Judaism.

May there be great peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
I have heard Sri Gurudev say that, when you practice Yoga, you connect with the religion of your family more deeply because Yoga is the essence of all religions.  I have also heard stories of young Israelis who have traveled to India; when they receive darshan from a Guru (blessings from a Master), they are told to return to their own Jewish tradition, which is a deep Bhakti Yoga (devotion from the heart) practice. Many ask their parents to send their tefillin (prayer boxes worn on the arm and head) to them in India so that they can begin to connect, or reconnect, with the spiritual practices of Judaism. That is similar to my experience: After being introduced to Yoga, and the teachings of Sri Swami Satchidananda, I felt pulled back to Judaism.

As my Yoga practice became regular and my spiritual practice began to deepen, I became more aware of my personal connection with the spiritual practices of the generations before me. Like the Israeli travelers in India, I turned to Jewish practices and to the traditions in which I had grown up. I felt a longing to reconnect to practices I had become unacquainted with in the previous fifteen years. I even started using tefillin just as I was about to move to Yogaville in 2008.…

Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2011 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.