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"Kaddish" is a Jewish word or term referring to an ancient Jewish prayer for the dead, and is both a profession of faith and an exaltation of God's grandeur. According to Jewish tradition, when a person dies, the Kaddish is to be in the presence of at least ten adult men (a "minyon"), including the male children for their parents and the father for his children. When Ginsberg's mother died in a mental hospital in June 1956, at the age of 62, Allen was at Berkeley and could not attend her funeral. He later learned that Kaddish had not been recited because there was not enough men present, In November 1959, while paying a visit to a Jewish friend, he told him about his mother's death and why the Kaddish had not been read. His friend happened to have a copy of the prayer with him and, also under the influence of Ray Charles's music, the two people decided to read the Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant and left-wing radical who had spent her whole life in poverty in Newark and had begun to suffer from nervous breakdowns when Allen was still a young boy.

When the Kaddish was over, Allen went back home, sat down at his desk and wrote without interruption from 6 a.m to 10 pm. The result was a kind of epic poem on his mother, which some critics regard as Ginsberg's masterpiece. It is divided into five long and shorter parts describing Naomi's life and death through painful though faithful details.
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