Although saying Kaddish during the year of mourning offers emotional and spiritual benefits, the one part I dread is what I call “Kaddish War”. A Kaddish War occurs when a loud baritone kaddish reciter blows through the liturgy, without pacing himself with the other mourners. I have a quiet voice, and sometimes I find myself wondering in despair if any congregants hear my Kaddish, or is it just a spiritual fool’s errand?

To forestall a feeling of praying in vain, I would try to do what my father, of blessed memory, referred to as “casing the joint”. My father had a propensity of using slang and prohibition Mobster-era words to affectionately refer to spiritual activities. Thus, a “six pack” was a set of Mishna (as it has six separate orders), and coming early to shul in order to find a proper seat for less interruption and more kavannah (concentration) was known as “casing the joint”. He would say it in an Italian accent, as father was some cigar-chomping mobster planning his latest bank heist. He wasn’t being irreverent; these were terms of endearment. My father drank Hebrew texts as easily as one could guzzle a can of beer, and he would never talk during davening thus certainly valuing the “loot” he took home from his prayers, as much as any bank robber gloating over his latest caper.

So I make it a habit to come early to shul, and “case the joint” in order to locate the epicenter of the “NOKC” (Naturally Occurring Kaddish Cluster). Using a sophisticated algorithm, I could triangulate my prayer location to end up within the best acoustical position to recite kaddish in pace with the others and have it heard.

One recent Shabbos I was away from home and did not get to shul early. The only seat left was all the way in the front. (For many people, shul is like grade school – no one wants to sit up front next to the rabbi.) Anyway, it was a young shul, so perhaps I would get lucky and be the only one to recite. Sure enough, for the first kaddish it seemed like I was in good shape (after a while you develop “Kadar”, a prescient sense of who looks like a Kaddish man). It appeared as if I had the kaddish equivalent of a layup – I was going to get a clear shot at a slam-dunk Oseh Shalom with no one overpowering my voice!

However, suddenly as I began reciting, a new voice from the back of the room was also saying Kaddish. It was impossible to synchronize with this fellow; his pace was randomly fastballs, curveballs and sliders. I decided I would head for the back of the shul so by the next Kaddish we could be side by side.

Halfway down the aisle, I noticed a gentleman heading toward me – could it be my mystery Kaddish partner? Indeed it was, and we met each other halfway!

After davening, at the Kiddush, my co-kaddisher and I shared war stories. This led to a real war story: This was his last Shabbos saying Kaddish for his father who was part of a unique group of Holocaust survivors. His father survived 12 hours in a gas chamber under a pile of bodies, somehow able to find a pocket of air to breathe.

Meeting up and joining in Kaddish harmoniously was a fitting tribute to a hero, and I was proud to be part of it.