Thursday, 26 September 2013

Kaddish for Normie

My father, David, with his mother and brother on Muizenberg beach

My father didn’t like going to Shul and this is why.

His mother died suddenly when he was 15 years old, and for the next eleven months he went to Shul every morning to say Kaddish.

He says he was diligent and never missed a day.

“Magnified and sanctified may His great name be in the world He created by His will”

He says in that year of mourning, he was never offered an Aliyah, even though he went to Shul regularly.  
He was a kid among all these men, and no one noticed him. No one recognized or comforted him.

No one explained to him that in saying the words of Kaddish he was earning merit for his mother by being her son who is a person who praises God.

“Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, praised and honoured, uplifted and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He”

So my father was bitter about Shul generally and about his Shul specifically. 

As a surgeon working at the coalface against cancer and disease for fifty years, he also has issues with God.

His Shul is the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation but it’s always just called by its address -
Marais Road.

Marais Road was where my parents got married and where we went on Friday night and for the Chaggim.

A few years after I was born, Marais Road Shul employed a new shammas, called Norman Isaacson.

Normie was an ex- weight-lifter who spoke with a thick South African accent.

He spent his life serving the Marais Road community in a thousand tiny gestures of kindness.  He noticed who was struggling. He remembered birthdays.  He made you feel at home.

On Normie’s watch, a kid like my father would have gotten an Aliyah.

My father called me yesterday to tell me Normie had died. Apparently Shul was packed for his memorial service, and Rabbis of all kinds came together.  Apparently they brought the coffin into the Shul.

My father praised the service and said at last he feels that Marais road is his Shul and the Marais Road congregation is his community.

“May He who makes peace in His high places, make peace for us and all Israel”

Normie the Shammas achieved in his death one final good deed– he helped my father make peace with his Shul. 

The jury is still out on God.

Normie Isaacson - shammas

Marais Road shul


  1. Normie would come every year to tell me that he had said kaddish for my late father because I don't go to shul. What a wonderful sweet man he was. RIP Normie.