Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sitting Shiva

I was going to do a post on All Souls Day or El Dia de los Muertos, but a sad recent development caused me to change my focus.

Over the weekend, the father of a dear friend of mine died peacefully in his sleep after being ill for a few months. Dr Dave was a gracious, kindly man with a gentle, generous spirit. He was intelligent, cultured, funny, and charming. I have fond memories of going to the home he shared with his lovely wife Elaine to celebrate Hanukkah with their family.

I learned about the funeral after it had taken place, having spent much of the weekend in my workplace without electricity. In Jewish tradition burial takes place as soon as possible after death and the ritual washing of the decedent. The funeral took place on Monday, and the traditional mourning period shiva began.

Last night, I headed over to my friend's childhood home to pay my respects. When I arrived, I met my friend outside the house, walking to dog before the house was filled with mourners. After offering my condolences to her, her mother, and her brother, I helped her husband, also a great and good friend of mine, set up a couple of platters of food on the kitchen table (he's known me for a long, long time, and knew that I'd worked in a delicatessen in olden times, when I had hair). There are two general rules I adhere to when visiting friends' houses- first of all, make your way to the kitchen as soon as possible (it's the center of the home) and when in doubt, help out (this was the first time I'd ever sat Shiva, although I did a bit of reading on what to expect during lulls at work).

The house soon filled up with friends and neighbors, many of whom were members of the good doctor's synagogue. The mourners' Kaddish was going to be led by the female cantor of my friend's synagogue, a less conservative congregation. The cantor (cantrix?) explained to the assembled mourners that hers was a Reform synagogue, and that the form of the Kaddish would be slightly different from the Kaddish recited at a more Orthodox Shiva, and handed out booklets with the entire Kaddish text. One of the older men handed out yarmulkes for the men to don while reciting the Kaddish. I donned mine, and tried to follow along with the English text of the Hebrew prayers. The prayers were sung a capella, and after the Kaddish was over, the assembled mourners sang some of Dr. Dave's favorite traditional songs, including a lovely rendition of the love song Tumbalalaika:

Being among the people celebrating the life and mourning the death of a wonderful human being, I was struck with the thought, "While I may not be a member of the tribe, I am a member of the family, which is more important." As I have written before, tribe is important to me, but it's always, always, always trumped by family.


Dr.KennethNoisewater said...

Thanks for sharing, B^4.

My stepmother is Jewish, but converted to Catholicism then agnosticism, so it's I don't have a whole lot of exposure to this sort of thing.

I have had some very quick brushes with some Jewish traditions at my dad's friend house. When I was growing up, they were pretty much best friends, so I got a little exposure that way. He is an awesome guy who taught me all about Greek and Roman mythology. His wife is a little ismp who sneaks bacon! Their daughter are both, like, perfect and accomplished and traveling overseas and...everything I wasn't at their age.

Laura said...

Awww. :(
I have tears in my eyes after reading this.
I'm so sorry for the loss of someone you obviously cared for and respected.
It's a wonderful gift that others can give, to make someone not born to them, feel like family.

Reading about the "shiva", which in all honesty, I knew very little about was pretty wonderful. Whenever I've lost someone close, I've never known what to do or how I should be acting. These guidelines at least get you through that first week.

Great post and again, my sympathies.


Smut Clyde said...

the love song Tumbalalaika
And who *doesn't* like a tumble?

Dr.KennethNoisewater said...

Smut is being inappropriate. Smut will never sit shiva with me. Hey. Say that 5 times fast.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

...first of all, make your way to the kitchen as soon as possible (it's the center of the home) and when in doubt, help out.

Words to live by!

Condolences to you and your friends, BBBB.

Smut Clyde said...

Shiva does not sit. He dances.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

His wife is a little imp who sneaks bacon

So that's where the bacon's been disappearing to. Now, where's the salami hiding?

It's a wonderful gift that others can give, to make someone not born to them, feel like family.

I'm one of five children, so our home was always a center of a lot of activity. What's another couple of hundred "kids" when you've got five to begin with? Doubling up on holidays is great, too. Why limit yourself to your "own" holidays?

And who *doesn't* like a tumble?

Haters of all things acrobatic?

Smut is being inappropriate.

Smut will be Smut.

Condolences to you and your friends, BBBB

Thanks, old chum!

Shiva does not sit. He dances.

He also cuts his son's head off.

Smut Clyde said...

Not relevant.

Dr.KennethNoisewater said...



Hamish Mack said...

Another great post BBBB but iffen I want learnin' I'll go to VS for bacon scald pictures.

Vonnie said...

What a beautiful post. And interesting. My condolences to you and your friends.

Nomi said...

I have met cantors who are women, & I'm pretty sure, they use the word, cantor, except, of course, when speaking Hebrew....and I cannot recall those words....
I end up in churches (esp. RC) more often than synagogues/shuls/temples, but that's a RI thing mostly....