Kaddish for JFK on His Yahrzeit

It was bright and sunny in Washington on November 22, 1993, thirty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was attending an annual conference of over 7000 professors of religion and biblical studies in the capital city. What a shame, I thought, that at this conference there was no formal recognition of the anniversary of the death of this leader. Here were gathered so many experts in religion and ritual, and they made no attempt to memorialize the day.

At a break between sessions of the conference I headed directly for the hotel entrance. A quick negotiation with a taxi driver confirmed that for $15-20 and less than an hour’s time I could get out to Arlington National Cemetery walk up the path to the JFK grave site, spend a few minutes and return to the learned discourse of the meeting.

In the cab I wondered what I would do when I stood at the memorial in front of the eternal flame. It was JFK’s yahrzeit, the anniversary of his death. In Judaism, members of the family recite the Kaddish prayer for a deceased relative each year on the specified day. But Kennedy was not Jewish and not my relative.

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