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Rosh HaShanah Honey Cakes (P)

1.5 Cgranulated sugar
1.33 Ccanola oil
1.5 Choney
1.25 C hot tap water
6 tinstant coffee
.5 Cbourbon
3.5 Call purpose flour
2 tbaking powder
1 tbaking soda
1 tallspice
4 tginger
4 tcinnamon
1.5 tcloves
1 tnutmeg
1Mix hot tap water and instant coffee, set aside to “brew”
2In large bowl, beat eggs and sugar until well combined
3Stir in oil, honey, coffee mixture, and bourbon
Ronyt tip: if you measure the oil first, most of the honey will easily slide out of the
measuring cup; then use the hot coffee mixture to rinse out the rest of the honey
4Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices until smooth (like pancake batter)
Ronyt tip: always sift baking powder and baking soda (a tea strainer works well)
5Spray pan(s) (bottom and sides) with cooking spray
Ronyt tip: use disposable aluminum “gift size” loaf pans; this recipe makes 6 loaves
Ronyt tip: stir the batter as you fill the baking pans so the honey is distributed evenly
6Bake at 300° for approximately 1 hour (until knife comes out clean)

Death and Mourning

Death is part of life.  Experiencing the loss of a loved one is unspeakably painful, a unique yet universal experience.  The Judaic approach to death and mourning may feel awkward to those unfamiliar with its ways.  However, when viewed from the perspective of the bereaved we see the embodiment of “compassionate expectations” as the community shelters mourners during the initial period of intense grief and then facilitates their steps of returning to everyday life.  The practical and emotional needs of the bereaved are paramount; community behavior defers to the mourners. 

This journey begins with the last days of the person about to encounter death.  As with many cultures and faiths, the parting words of a dying person carry special weight and import. 

Deathbed:  the person nearing death voices a final prayer acknowledging HaShem’s sovereignty and accepting HaShem’s imminent decision between life and death.  The prayer concludes with,

“Father of orphans and Justice of widows,

protect my cherished family whose souls are bound with mine.

Into Your hand I entrust my spirit.

May You redeem me, L-rd, G-d of truth.  Amen and amen.

“The L-rd is King, the L-rd was King, and the L-rd will be King for ever and ever. (3 x)

“Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and all time. (3 x)

“The L-rd, He is G-d.  (7 x)

“Listen, Yisra’el:  the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.”


Much of this is familiar; we see snippets from Yeshua’s final words, from the Torah service, from Moshe’s final words, from the Yom Kippur service, and from the Sh’ma.  It is good and proper for us to be reminded each time we recite these words that they will one day be our own final words.

Aninut:  Normally lasting one to two days, this is the period between a person’s death and burial.  Family members are occupied with funeral arrangements; they are overwhelmed by grief.  During this time, the community refrains from condolence calls or visits.  Contact with the family should be practical and specific, not social.

Levaya HaMot:  The formal funeral service begins with a familiar reading from Pirkei Avot 3:1 which includes the admonition for all present to, “Know where you came from, where you are going, and before whom you will have to give an account and reckoning.”  T’hillim 91, so often a source of comfort, is recited to comfort mourners as they make their way to the gravesite.  Various portions of Tanaḥ follow; then (provided a minyan is present) Kaddish Eḥar Hakvurah is read.  Eloquent and comforting, this beautiful Kaddish interweaves glimpses of the Messianic Age into the words so familiar from our daily services (wording unique to this kaddish are in italics):

Magnified and sanctified may His great name be, in the world that will in future be renewed, reviving the dead and raising them up to eternal life.

He will rebuild the city of Jerusalem and in it re-establish His Temple.

He will remove alien worship from the earth and restore to its place the worship of Heaven.

Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will reign in His sovereignty and splendor.

May it be in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel, swiftly and soon – and say Amen.  May His great name be blessed for ever and all time.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, raised and honored, uplifted and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond any blessing, song, praise and consolation uttered in the world – and say: Amen.

May there be great peace from heaven, and life for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.

May He who makes peace in His high places, make peace for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.


Shiva:  The seven (“sheva”) days after burial is the time for condolence visits and calls.  In keeping with “compassionate expectations” the general notion is that the grief will start to ebb a bit after the initial three days – although the entire first week understandably remains a heart-rending time for the bereaved.  Within the Shiva house all indications of vanity and wealth are set aside:  mirrors are covered, seating is limited to the floor or low stools.  The mourners do not leave the house or attend to personal comfort or adornment.  They eat plain meals.  A memorial candle burns for the week.

Shiva visits might initially seem encumbered by an abundance of protocol; upon further examination, however, the tender deference to the mourners’ comfort is apparent.  Consider the following from the perspective of someone negotiating the fog – the numbing intensity – of the first week after losing a loved one:

  • Shiva Visits:  Knock quietly upon arrival and let yourself in.  Do not expect greetings nor give greetings to others and remove your shoes at the door.  Do not mention the deceased to the mourner, rather, let the mourner initiate such conversations while being ready to share memories of the deceased.  Avoid idle conversation and nervous chatter.  Remember, it’s okay to not talk; you are there to comfort the mourner, whether the protocol feels alien to you is irrelevant.  If possible, help by providing simple meals and taking on basic chores.
  • Kaddish Yatom: Kaddish Yatom, commonly known as Mourner’s Kaddish, is recited daily by the mourner for essentially the first year, although the exact ending point varies; usually eleven months.  It is a kindness to help with assuring daily minyans during this first week.

Shloshim:  Literally meaning “thirty,” this is the first month following death / burial during which the family gradually reconnects to daily life.  Life’s necessities compel the bereaved back into household and workplace duties; friends and extended family, by remembering to include the bereaved in basic social interactions, draw them back into community.  The resumption of daily activities is part of life and it is good and appropriate and healthy as the bereaved starts to look up and out.

Avelut:  Translated as bereavement, lamenting, or mourning, avelut continues for several months following death / burial, concluding at the unveiling (of the gravestone).  Societal activities fully resume after this period. 

Yahrzeit:  Translated “time of year” (Yiddish), this is the annual observance during which the mourner re-visits their grief.  The tradition is two-fold:  light a Yahrzeit candle (which burns for at least 24 hours) and recite Kaddish Yatom.  A final yet unending “compassionate expectation,” Yahrzeit comforts the mourner with the assurance that they will never be forced to completely forget the deceased.

Compassion without expectations can be crippling to the bereaved, giving tacit permission to cling to their sorrow.  Expectations without compassion can be harsh, further wounding the bereaved by ignoring their pain.  Compassionate expectations give the mourner space to grieve while also reminding them that:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven;

A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to mourn, and a time to dance –“

Kohelet 3:1-2a, 4b


Kaddish Yatom

As we proceed through the Shaḥrit service we arrive at a curious junction.  Having just finished reading T’hillim 30 and just before we start the exhilarating and joyous songfest called P’sukei d’Zimrah – we recite Kaddish Yatom, commonly known as Mourners’ Kaddish.  It feels awkward to pause our celebration in order to provide our grieving congregants an opportunity to mourn the loss of their close relatives.  Yet here we are.

The relatives deemed as close (mother, father, spouse, son, daughter, brother, unmarried sister) are found in Vayikra (Leviticus) 21.  As with all kaddish prayers Kaddish Yatom is recited only when a minyan (10 men) is present.  Others may “join” in saying Kaddish Yatom but mourners alone stand during the recitation.  This strict list seems harsh and the rules a bit insensitive to 21st century Western culture.  After all, don’t all of us have a special someone not on that list?  Aren’t we all family?  Don’t we all share in each other’s sorrows?

The Judaic perspective on mourning is one of “compassionate boundaries.”  Those standing have suffered the loss of a close relative.  They will remain vigilant in their obligation to recite kaddish long after well-intentioned acquaintances lose interest.  By remaining seated while mourners stand, the community shows respect for the unique personal sorrow of the bereaved.

The requirement of a minyan offers an opportunity for us to love our neighbors as ourselves; we contribute to the ability of others to say kaddish through our steadfast attendance of services.  It is a strong community when members show compassion toward one another through the thoughtful devotion of helping make the minyan in case any are in mourning.

Kaddish Yatom includes the following additional verbiage:

May there be great peace from heaven and life for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.

May He who makes peace in His high places make peace for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.

Notice that the Mourners’ Kaddish does not mention death while shalom (peace) is mentioned three times.  The word “shalom” is often misunderstood; rather than describing a lack of pain or conflict, the Judaic concept of “shalom” is the rectification of opposites, a dynamic tension resulting in an equilibrium we perceive without comprehending – “the peace of G-d which passeth all understanding” [Phillipians 4:7].

To quote an unknown author, “It takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence.”  This is a poignant depiction of shalom, the bittersweet mix of conflicting emotions we experience when a loved one passes away.  We grieve because we love.  The initial collision of emotions transforms over time as the veritable tsunami of grief gradually gives way over the years to occasional waves of sadness.

Eventually we have a mix of fond recollections and pleasant memories infused with a measure of sadness which never ends – and for that we are grateful.  Death is part of life.  Death is natural and expected, part of our nefesh experience; brought to mind every time a man dons his kittel.

We are beckoned to celebrate life while conceding that our own days are numbered.  Far beyond mere poetic verse, Kaddish Yatom reminds us to examine our lives so we honor our departed loved ones through the words and actions we choose each day.  It provokes us to live our lives so that one day our close relatives will desire to honor us.

Few people go their entire lives without experiencing the death of a close relative; such loss is practically inevitable.  As we hear others recite Kaddish Yatom during services we realize that we will one day stand to say Kaddish Yatom for members of our own family.  May this remind us to cherish the years, the days, the moments we still have with our loved ones, ever in praise to our G-d, “O King, who brings death and gives life, and makes salvation grow.”