As the sequoias

by Chaviva Edwards (Storrs, CT)

The first time I went to a Conservative synagogue, I was told by a friend that when the mourner’s kaddish is recited, to stay seated unless I actually am in mourning for a lost loved one. I sat there as a few of the 20 or so people there stood up on old, worn ankles, tired hips mustering the strength to stand tall in the sanctuary while reciting the prayer that does not once mention death. I mouthed the words to myself, because it was what I knew — when reciting kaddish, the congregation stood together with those mourning, each holding each other up. This is an across-the-board kind of thing, though it varies from shul to shul. I can confidently say that most Conservative/Orthodox shuls are the kind of places where only the mourners will stand.

But last night at Erev Rosh Hashanah services, the rabbi gave probably the most poignant explanation for why all congregants should stand during the kaddish. He told the congregation about an article he had read about the seqouias — the tall trees that grow thin and high. The roots of these trees are pretty much at surface level, that is, they do not grow very far below the immediate surface. So how do these trees stand so very tall when threatened to be blown over by the smallest breeze? The roots are intertwined across entire forest areas. The roots lace together, creating a strong, solid structure, a base of root upon root that allows each tree to hold his neighbor up, and in turn, to hold up the entire collection of sequoias. Without one, they all would falter.

How appropriate is this? How beautiful an analogy for why a congregation should stand, arms intertwined and souls laced together tightly in a sanctuary space with those mourning and those not mourning, simply to support one another in a time of extreme sadness? Like the sequoias, Jews, too, should interlace themselves, standing tall and help one another brave the wind that blows soft, then hard, across our cheeks.

Chaviva Edwards, currently residing in Storrs, Connecticut, is in her second year of the master’s program in Judaic studies at the University of Connecticut. In her past life, Chaviva was a copy editor for such publications as The Denver Post, The Daily Nebraskan, and The Washington Post. Alongside her master’s work, she is rekindling her insatiable desire to edit through special projects involving Judaism and Jewish topics. She is an avid photographer, devotee of her many blogs, and a Web 2.0 connoisseur.

You can find more of her work at,,, and

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