Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Shiva Crashers

Growing up in the United States, Shiva [the seven day period of mourning] was a serious adult deal, quite formal in its rules and code of behavior.  Even when my great-grandfather died, I did not attend the funeral or the Shiva, because it was not a place for children.  And I was old enough to know that he was gone.

This past week, the 92 year old father of one of our neighbors died, and the Shiva is taking place quite literally next door.  Every time we leave the house to go to school or to ballet, the door is open and the sign on the door declares that this is a house of mourning.

The first day of the Shiva, I told Raphaela that we were going there not to entertain, but to sit quietly and take our cue from our neighbor. If he wanted to talk, fine, and if not we would sit there out of respect.  Well, Israel being Israel, Jerusalem being Jerusalem, and this being the Jewish country, apparently the law of One Extended Family applies.

At our first visit, Raphaela spoke less than her normal self, but was still warm and engaging, and as we left, she gave him a big hug.  She also left with a glass of juice and piece of cake, kindly given to Raphaela by the mourner's wife.  And every day since, every time we pass the door, Raphaela insists upon going inside for even a minute, to say hello and to deliver one of her patented hugs;  to show him a shiny rock she has just found, or to perform the dance she has just learned.

My Israeli friends tell me that in this country the process of Shiva is far less formal, and that it is "lovely" that Raphaela has made it her mission to cheer up our mourning neighbor.  They cite many examples where the Shiva evolves into a celebration of life and family, a place where smiles and stories are welcome.  I am still uncomfortable with the behavior to some degree, it is the stiff New England American in me, despite the 18 plus years I have lived here.

Far be it from me, however,  to teach Raphaela that compassion toward another person should be limited, in thought or in deed.

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