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Kaddish at a baseball game

(Personal note: It has been nine years now since my father passed away. Therefore, I have decided to share with you the following personal story instead of the 'psych ward' blog):

My Dad loved baseball games. At the ballpark, we would sit together, eating our peanuts, discussing every nuance of possibility. "Baseball is like poetry," Dad would say, where innings become rhythms of pace and pause. Father and son, side by side, the diamond before us.

Dad would relish his one beer, after which a touch of foam inevitably appeared on his mustache. This always made me smile. Dad seemed to know everything before it happened: "Get ready for the hit and run!", or "Time to bring in the southpaw!" He rejected sitting too close to the field: "Higher seats give you better perspective, John." Dad was a kid again, all smiles, excited, revved up. How I loved being with him at those games.

Kaddish. Kaddish is what one says when a parent passes. It is the Jewish way. Saying the Kaddish prayer has the extraordinary ability to lift the soul of the deceased higher and higher. As such, the experience of Kaddish is transcendent, a connection to G-d, and for me, a connection to me dear father, Murray Guterson, who breathed his last on Friday night, October 4, 2013.

Saying the Kaddish prayer is also something of a marathon: three times a day (morning, afternoon, and night), at synagogue, for 11 straight months. It requires consistency, endurance, resilience. It takes a fastidious rearranging of work schedules and vacations. It takes honor and love.

And if you're late to synagogue, by chance , then you've missed that moment to say Kaddish. Opportunity lost. I confess to some restless nights, fearful that I would oversleep. For obsessives, a perfect setup. Dad, I will not let you down. You and Mom brought me into this physical world; you raised me, made me who I am. I'll be there.

And so, it was not by accident that at the end of my 11 months, when I came to my very last time of the year of Kaddish, that I went to a baseball game. Celebrate my Dad. Pirates vs. Cardinals. My 10 year old son and my son-in-law joined me, their presence as buffers for my emotions.

To say the Kaddish prayer one needs a minyan, a quorum of ten men over the age of 13. In the Torah world, we are not alone. So needing nine Jewish men to join me, Rabbi Silverman came to the rescue, as he had already organized a "Jewish college students night at the ballpark" for that very game.

Now, I can't tell you the names of any of those college students who left their seats in the bottom of the first inning to be part of the minyan. I knew none of those young men who spared 15 minutes to stand near a 60-year-old, white-bearded son as he paid homage to his deceased father. But there they were - some knew Hebrew, some did not, but that didn't matter. Simply being there was the key, the power of 10 men together.

For without all 10 of us, whether they understood fully or not, I would not have been able to say that very last Kaddish prayer, the culmination of 11 consistent months, of 990 minyans, of never missing once. And so, as the crowd roared in the background, those nine guys meant everything to me.

As I walked back to my seat, I realized how much my Dad would have loved the whole scene. I could feel him there with me, smiling, thanking me, loving me, and then urging me to get back to my seat soon, not to miss another pitch. Tears welled up inside me as I took that walk, another goodbye to my father.

As I approached my seat, there was a 10-year-old boy, wrapped up in the moment, the thrill of a ballgame, pistachios in hand.

He looked up at me with a big smile on his face, and said: "Hi, Dad!"

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