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Kaddish with Oprah

Kaddish with Oprah


The phone rang in my New York hotel room. It was 1995, and I was saying Kaddish for my late father, of blessed memory, Joseph Jacobovici. I live in Toronto, but I'm a filmmaker so I move around.

During my eleven months of saying Kaddish, I ended up in various minyans from San Francisco to Halifax. Once, I extended a stopover in Detroit and rushed to the basement of an old synagogue, where I was greeted by nine octogenarians as if I were the Messiah himself. But the phone call in New York was the start of what turned out to be perhaps the most interesting Kaddish experience of them all.

Whenever I had to explain this, people never quite got itI had just finished a documentary film called "The Selling of Innocents." The film won an Emmy, attracting the attention of Oprah Winfrey, the American icon and celebrated TV host. The producer at the other end of the telephone line asked if I could fly to Chicago and appear with my fellow producers on the Oprah show the day after next.

I was taken aback. This was the Oprah show. The big time. Great publicity for the film, and a great promotional opportunity for me and my company.

"I'd love to do it," I said, "but I don't think I can."

"Why not?" the producer asked, her voice betraying her surprise. Nobody says "too busy" to the Oprah show.

"I have a problem," I answered.

The producer's voice, Lisa was her name, became steely— all business. "What's the problem?" she asked.

"It's complicated."

"Try me," she said.

I began the process of explaining, to a non-Jewish television producer from Chicago, the Jewish ritual of Kaddish.

Whenever I had to explain this, people never quite got it. I would tell them that I need a minyan, and they would drive me to an empty synagogue... It never quite worked out. But this was Oprah.

So I gave it a try.

The rest unfolded like a military operation "I'm Jewish. My father passed away. In our religion it's incumbent upon me, three times a day, to say a certain prayer, a glorification of G‑d's Name, really. It's called Mourner's Kaddish. To do this, I need to be in a 'Jewish quorum.' It's called a minyan... So I can't miss this ritual. If I come to Chicago, I would have to attend morning services prior to being on Oprah."

"No problem," she said. "You need a minyan to say Kaddish. Ten Jewish men. For morning services. I'll arrange it."

"It's not so simple," I said. "You may find a synagogue, but it might not have a minyan in the morning. Or the Jewish community may send you to a synagogue that's open... which wouldn't do the trick for me."

Lisa tried to be patient. "I'll fax your flight information to your hotel. You will be met in Chicago by a limo. The driver will have the minyan information. You will say Kaddish for your father."

The rest unfolded like a military operation. The next day the ticket came. I arrived in Chicago. Then the limo came. The driver took me to a hotel and said, "I'll be here at 6:30 a.m. Your minyan begins at 7 a.m. I'll pick you up at 8 a.m. You'll be at the Oprah show by 8:30 a.m."

The hotel room was beautiful. I slept like a baby. At 6:30 in the morning, I came down and stepped into my limo. There was a newspaper on the seat.

I could get used to this, I thought.

The driver pulled up in front of a downtown office building and told me that there was a Chabad Lubavitch minyan on one of the upper floors.

When I got there, the rabbi looked at me and said, "So you're the guy saying Kaddish. I was warned by the Oprah show that I'd better have a minyan."

We smiled at each other. I was really impressed with Lisa and Oprah. And I felt that my father was surely amused. After prayers, my driver took me to the Oprah show. I was met by Lisa, a black woman in her thirties. She got straight to the point.

"You had a minyan?"

"Yes, thank you," I said.

"Was it proper? Did you say Kaddish?"

"Absolutely. Couldn't be better," I answered.

She looked at me with that look that star surgeons have when they come out of the operating room. Or maybe it's the look that battle commanders have when coming back from a military operation. It's a look that says, "Nothing is too complicated."

I was on Oprah. She was very professional. I had my five minutes of fame. But all I can remember of that day is the Kaddish.

Excerpted from Living Kaddish: Incredible and Inspiring Stories by Rabbi Gedaliah Zweig, a powerful collection of stories about dedicated Jews from all over who, against all odds, fulfilled the mitzvah of saying kaddish for their loved ones. Available from Targum Press.
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Rus Devorah Buffalo, NY March 8, 2016

Beautiful! Now let's get Oprah on board regarding the land of Israel! She has resources! Reply

Frantz Lancaster County, PA July 31, 2014

קדיש ב״ה
An amazing story.
שלום וברכה
Frantz Reply

Natana Pesya Kulakofski Worcester, MA USA June 29, 2010

To Chaya Long Tzidkaniyot is the feminine plural of tzadik...
Tzadekes is the feminine singular of tzadik. Reply

Chaya Long Sacramento, California June 28, 2010

Kaddish with Oprah Wonderful!! I'm sitting here with a pleased grin and chuckling.

The woman Oprah, and her assistant, are truly great people! How do you say tzaddik in the feminine? Reply

D'vorah in St. Louis, MO March 3, 2010

Simcha's alright by me! And, so is! One of the things I love about Chabad Lubavitch is its accessability(sp?) to even Jews (like me) who did not have a Jewish education growing up and have been very much a part of the secular world, and its outreach to those like me, and the rest of the world as well as truly a light to all the nations to live a more meaningful, everyday sacred, truly optimistic, caring life. G-d bless all Jews and all other chassidic groups, but Chabad does not cloister itself away like some. Also, Oprah is a good person, and has a very unique, quite unparalleled platform to educate millions. She has shown many times over how people's lives were changed just by seeing a particular episode of her show. How many potential baal-teshuva (returnees to Judaism) saw that episode, was impressed or intrigued by Simcha, and so further investigated who he was? G-d's Ways are Awesome. When we live a life in rhythm with His Ways and perform mitzvah (as Simcha did no matter what else was happening) miracles happen Reply

daniela July 7, 2009

do not add to the Torah What is not forbidden is permissible. May be myself - and other readers - are uninterested in going on the Oprah tv show - which is because it is irrelevant to my job; if I were a playwriter for the movie industry I would go immediately. But there is nothing forbidden in going there, and the author was pursuing his livelyhood in a very respectable manner. He also did a big kiddush Hashem at the same time. Yes Oprah and her staff did their effort because they wanted a guest to the show for their audience, not really because of understanding the importance of saying kaddish - so what? Does that detract from their mitzva? and even more so if we consider they are not jewish. Kol Ha Kavod to everyone involved. Reply

Bracha Schappert S Raphael, CA July 7, 2009

Kaddish wih Oprah My feelings about this article are mixed. The importance of saying Kaddish is clear, but reference to the programs host was an imposition. And, I felt violated.
It has been stated that entering the Chabad website is akin to a Shabbat experience. Your accounts reminded me about Channukah, king Antiochus and how he and his people defiled the Holy Temple. Remember how he tried to force our people to bow down to idols. What was said, i.e, importance of saying kaddish could have been written differently. Reply

Natana Pesya Kulakofski Worcester , MA USA July 6, 2009

To Lee, Part Two "Kaddish with Oprah" grabbed our attention. As every good writer knows, you have to get your audience's attention before you can impart something to him. I firmly believe that that was the only reason Simcha Jacobovici brought Oprah into this story at all, to get our attention, to make us focus on how important saying kaddish for a deceased parent is. Even in "this day and age", when everyone wants his "fifteen minutes of fame" as Andy Warhol once stated, what's more important is this very special mitzvah. Who needs Oprah? Sure, being on her show will help sell your book or tickets to your movie or play, but THAT WAS NOT AT THE TOP OF HIS LIST OF PRIORITIES: saying kaddish for his dad was. THAT was the point of bringing Oprah into the story. I'm sorry you missed the point the first time around.
And what's wrong with Oprah? She suports reading and education, she doesn't take drugs or involve herself in any other risky behavior. I don't watch TV, but she's pretty parve. Reply

Lee Pinero Seattle, WA via July 6, 2009

Minyan with Oprah Thank you for the insight. However, I felt uncomfortable reading about Oprah on this site. And the TV show should not get credit or advertisement. I still believe that the article is about how the writer met Oprah! I was disappointed in reading it. Reply

Natana Pesya Kulakofski Worcester , MA, USA July 1, 2009

To Lee Pinero bh
I believe he was impressed with Lisa and Oprah, but much more so with how non-Jews got him to a minyan, HIS priority for the morning, so that he could appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show, THEIR priority for the morning. He couldn't remember anything about the show. He just remembered that he'd been able to say kaddish for his father, obm, thanks to the people on the Show. The entire article in centered on his efforts to explain to other non-Jews about the importance of his being able to say kaddish for his dad during the past eleven months. I believe that he was impressed by Lisa and Oprah, but only in light of what they did for him. THAT was the whole point of the article.
When my dad passed away yud alef Tammuz 5765, I had someone say kaddish for him, and I stood up on the women's side every Shabbos and Yom Tov and quietly said the kaddish for him as well.
My hachlatah for his 4th yahrtzeit: to recite the entire sefer tehillim in 5 days instead of 7 each week. It's for Dad. Reply

Tuvia Farkas Boynton Beach, Florida July 1, 2009

Sharing Torah I B"H
am happy that a the Oprah staff understands what is more important than worldly things. HaSham rules this world and even our parents who pass to heaven is with us for every Reply

Anonymous Boca Raton, Florida June 30, 2009

chabad via Oprah Chabad's founder & back further to the Bael Shom Tov show many philosphies, methods, and order to thoughts - central is that Chabad: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, and our "relationship" with G-d, does not require great wealth, a limo, or an Oprah to achieve.

The story is quite moving and makes me think of the expression, "time is subjectively perceived." This gentleman first believed there was not enough time. It turns out that non-jews found the time for him to satisfy a very important prayer for him and his relationship with G-d.

The respect that non-jews had for this man shows religious tolerance, a very important notion and one that is built into the very fabric of Israel & USA.

The "time" they found, he could have found. They showed him - that is the "miracle." He could have called any Chabad/other shul, himself & taxi. Maybe G-d showed that he is not alone; that others do help, Jew or non-Jew. Prayer however, does not require great monetary wealth. :) Reply

Anonymous June 30, 2009

What a story! Reply

Nechama NY, USA June 30, 2009

thanks I am surprised and sad that there is no thank you for the Chabad Rabbi arranging the minian - he is taken for granted and Oprah people who did it only for their own reasons are praised. Reply

daniela June 29, 2009

how beautiful Thank you for sharing
Yasher Koach to all (including the non-Jewish people who have been so very helpful) Reply

Natana Pesya Kulakofski Worcester , MA, USA June 29, 2009

This is one for the record books! B"H
This beautiful, pithy story has to be one for the record books! The Oprah Winfrey Show arranges an Orthodox minyan for a Jew so he can say kaddish for his deceased father before appearing on her show! Incredible! Surely that has to mean that Mashiach is coming soon!
By the way, and I do think I have my facts straight, Oprah's name was originally Orpah, one of Naomi's [from Megillat Rus] daughters-in-law, but little 2-year-old Orpah pronounced her name Oprah, and it stuck! (Or maybe someone else in the family misprounced it that way!)
At any rate, I found myself laughing out loud when I read,
"So you're the guy saying Kaddish. I was warned by the Oprah show that I'd better have a minyan."
The lesson we can learn from this? Never say you don't have time to say kaddish or to doing any other mitzvah, for that matter. The Rebbe said: Don't do ALL you can do, do MORE than you can do. When you do more than you can do, it changes the nature of a person.
Yasher koach to all! Reply

Tamara Pechthalt Gainesville, Fl/usa June 29, 2009

Moving All I can say even risking sounding foolish its how moved I am to read this . Not so much for the effort of a producer of a top show such as Opras (In this case it shows why she has the job)... I am moved by the commitment of a good Jewish son towards his father. Judaism has a way to keep us close. After the death of my father Kaddish was the closest I have ever felt and been to my older brother. Sharing this simple act brought us together for probably the first time in our life and reminding us of our bond. Reply

Shmuel Condon Springfield, MA June 29, 2009

What a great story! I'd never imagine myself being near Oprah Winfrey, but the fact that everyone was so accommodating was very nice. Reply

Chaya Melbourne June 29, 2009

Beautiful! Reply

Brooke Michelle Trabuco Canyon, CA June 29, 2009

inspiration Thanks so much for this inspiring story. I too am a writer and I would have honestly found some sort of justification to excuse missing the ritual for Oprah. But you amaze me with the kind of stand that you took for your father, the ritual and your people. The fact that you took such a stand and wouldn't trade it for this world's audience and book sales reveals that a new world coming!
A new era that is... because of stories like this, one more lamp is lit and the Jews become the spiritual leaders and the light of this generation and the next.

You will be a Nation of Priests
and a blessing to Earth! :)

Despite being born in exile and wandering homeless for the past twenty centuries the Jewish people have kept promises and traditions that maintain a fading identity as a Nation of Priests and a blessing to Earth.

May the name "Jew" be an honor forever because of your stand. Reply

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