The Kaddish


From behind the curtain came low moans, and low words of encouragement

from the old and experienced Bobbe. In the room it was dismal to

suffocation. The seven children, all girls, between twenty-three and

four years old, sat quietly, each by herself, with drooping head, and

waited for something dreadful.

At a little table near a great cupboard with books sat the "patriarch"

Reb Selig Chanes, a tall, thin
ew, with a yellow, consumptive face. He

was chanting in low, broken tones out of a big Gemoreh, and continually

raising his head, giving a nervous glance at the curtain, and then,

without inquiring what might be going on beyond the low moaning, taking

up once again his sad, tremulous chant. He seemed to be suffering more

than the woman in childbirth herself.

"Lord of the World!"--it was the eldest daughter who broke the

stillness--"Let it be a boy for once! Help, Lord of the World, have


"Oi, thus might it be, Lord of the World!" chimed in the second.

And all the girls, little and big, with broken heart and prostrate

spirit, prayed that there might be born a boy.

Reb Selig raised his eyes from the Gemoreh, glanced at the curtain, then

at the seven girls, gave vent to a deep-drawn Oi, made a gesture with

his hand, and said with settled despair, "She will give you another


The seven girls looked at one another in desperation; their father's

conclusion quite crushed them, and they had no longer even the courage

to pray.

Only the littlest, the four-year-old, in the torn frock, prayed softly:

"Oi, please God, there will be a little brother."

"I shall die without a Kaddish!" groaned Reb Selig.

The time drags on, the moans behind the curtain grow louder, and Reb

Selig and the elder girls feel that soon, very soon, the "grandmother"

will call out in despair, "A little girl!" And Reb Selig feels that the

words will strike home to his heart like a blow, and he resolves to run


He goes out into the yard, and looks up at the sky. It is midnight. The

moon swims along so quietly and indifferently, the stars seem to frolic

and rock themselves like little children, and still Reb Selig hears, in

the "grandmother's" husky voice, "A girl!"

"Well, there will be no Kaddish! Verfallen!" he says, crossing the yard

again. "There's no getting it by force!"

But his trying to calm himself is useless; the fear that it should be a

girl only grows upon him. He loses patience, and goes back into the


But the house is in a turmoil.

"What is it, eh?"

"A little boy! Tate, a boy! Tatinke, as surely may I be well!" with this

news the seven girls fall upon him with radiant faces.

"Eh, a little boy?" asked Reb Selig, as though bewildered, "eh? what?"

"A boy, Reb Selig, a Kaddish!" announced the "grandmother." "As soon as

I have bathed him, I will show him you!"

"A boy ... a boy ..." stammered Reb Selig in the same bewilderment, and

he leant against the wall, and burst into tears like a woman.

The seven girls took alarm.

"That is for joy," explained the "grandmother," "I have known that

happen before."

"A boy ... a boy!" sobbed Reb Selig, overcome with happiness, "a boy ...

a boy ... a Kaddish!"

* * * * *

The little boy received the name of Jacob, but he was called, by way of

a talisman, Alter.

Reb Selig was a learned man, and inclined to think lightly of such

protective measures; he even laughed at his Cheike for believing in such

foolishness; but, at heart, he was content to have it so. Who could tell

what might not be in it, after all? Women sometimes know better than


By the time Alterke was three years old, Reb Selig's cough had become

worse, the sense of oppression on his chest more frequent. But he held

himself morally erect, and looked death calmly in the face, as though he

would say, "Now I can afford to laugh at you--I leave a Kaddish!"

"What do you think, Cheike," he would say to his wife, after a fit of

coughing, "would Alterke be able to say Kaddish if I were to die to-day

or to-morrow?"

"Go along with you, crazy pate!" Cheike would exclaim in secret alarm.

"You are going to live a long while! Is your cough anything new?"

Selig smiled, "Foolish woman, she supposes I am afraid to die. When one

leaves a Kaddish, death is a trifle."

Alterke was sitting playing with a prayer-book and imitating his father

at prayer, "A num-num--a num-num."

"Listen to him praying!" and Cheike turned delightedly to her husband.

"His soul is piously inclined!"

Selig made no reply, he only gazed at his Kaddish with a beaming face.

Then an idea came into his head: Alterke will be a Tzaddik, will help

him out of all his difficulties in the other world.

"Mame, I want to eat!" wailed Alterke, suddenly.

He was given a piece of the white bread which was laid aside, for him

only, every Sabbath.

Alterke began to eat.

"Who bringest forth! Who bringest forth!" called out Reb Selig.

"Tan't!" answered the child.

"It is time you taught him to say grace," observed Cheike.

And Reb Selig drew Alterke to him and began to repeat with him.

"Say: Boruch."

"Bo'uch," repeated the child after his fashion.



When Alterke had finished "Who bringest forth," Cheike answered piously

Amen, and Reb Selig saw Alterke, in imagination, standing in the

synagogue and repeating Kaddish, and heard the congregation answer

Amen, and he felt as though he were already seated in the Garden of


* * * * *

Another year went by, and Reb Selig was feeling very poorly. Spring had

come, the snow had melted, and he found the wet weather more trying than

ever before. He could just drag himself early to the synagogue, but

going to the afternoon service had become a difficulty, and he used to

recite the afternoon and later service at home, and spend the whole

evening with Alterke.

It was late at night. All the houses were shut. Reb Selig sat at his

little table, and was looking into the corner where Cheike's bed stood,

and where Alterke slept beside her. Selig had a feeling that he would

die that night. He felt very tired and weak, and with an imploring look

he crept up to Alterke's crib, and began to wake him.

The child woke with a start.

"Alterke"--Reb Selig was stroking the little head--"come to me for a


The child, who had had his first sleep out, sprang up, and went to his


Reb Selig sat down in the chair which stood by the little table with the

open Gemoreh, lifted Alterke onto the table, and looked into his eyes.


"What, Tate?"

"Would you like me to die?"

"Like," answered the child, not knowing what "to die" meant, and

thinking it must be something nice.

"Will you say Kaddish after me?" asked Reb Selig, in a strangled voice,

and he was seized with a fit of coughing.

"Will say!" promised the child.

"Shall you know how?"


"Well, now, say: Yisgaddal."

"Yisdaddal," repeated the child in his own way.



And Reb Selig repeated the Kaddish with him several times.

The small lamp burnt low, and scarcely illuminated Reb Selig's yellow,

corpse-like face, or the little one of Alterke, who repeated wearily the

difficult, and to him unintelligible words of the Kaddish. And Alterke,

all the while, gazed intently into the corner, where Tate's shadow and

his own had a most fantastic and frightening appearance.