The Rabbi walked out on the Shiva

The Minyan by Nancy Schon

“The Minyan” by sculptor Nancy Schon

I recently went to pay a Shiva call. Among the small group was an orthodox rabbi. We chatted and waited for a minyan to arrive. We made a couple of phone calls as the minyan was not materializing. To the surprise of some people in the room, the rabbi announced he was leaving.

Someone demanded to know how that rabbi could do something so outrageous; so disrespectful. Just who does he think he is anyway?

On the contrary, I answered. The rabbi is acting with respect for the mourners. How can you say that? Because I continued, the rabbi cannot share certain prayers absent a minyan and he cannot be counted in a minyan unless it includes only men. We will only have a minyan if we count the women, so the rabbi did the only thing he thought he could do under the circumstances, he left and essentially gave us permission to proceed. It might seem strange to some, but he was being respectful of his beliefs and the beliefs of those who were in mourning. In that moment, he found a way to uphold both.

minyanThere is room here to reflect on whether the decision was the correct one. Could not the rabbi have permitted himself to be counted for our purposes, never considering for himself that he has fulfilled his obligation? Wouldn’t the comfort of his presence as a close family friend override his interpretation of his obligation to his particular personal practice?

The important point is he found a workaround that in his mind upheld his competing duties as he understood them. Then it was up to me to be respectful of the decision whether I agreed or not. Here was a moment that could have created separation as easily as it could create community. It required both “sides” of the conversation to decide which one it was.

Re-Remembering Our Loved Ones

candleOver Shimini Atzeret, I was moved by the sermon of a rabbi who had lost his twin babies at 20 weeks of gestation, just before the Sabbath. He quoted from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes):

… better off than he, is the stillborn child, for he [the stillborn child] comes in vain and departs in darkness. Though it never saw the sun, nor knew of it; its contentment is greater than his.

Twenty-three years ago, I suffered the loss of a baby, but there is no traditional Jewish ritual for miscarriages or stillborn babies. No naming ceremony, no shiva. I did not even seek out a support group. Finally, I have now been given a positive perspective on my loss. My new friend had copious tears down her face.

Then, the rabbi segued into talking about other losses: the death of people we have lived with. He said that the tendency is for us to have a fixed static memory of the departed person, because time has stopped for that person. However, in order to give a future to our relationship, we need to bring that person into our present and incorporate new interactions. We need to re-member them into our lives.

My dad died in June, and Mom has placed a large framed photograph of him in the living room. She talks to him daily and when my siblings and I visit, we bow and greet Dad. Upon our departure, we announce our farewell. At the oddest moments, I think of Dad and how he would have reacted. I take comfort in that and it gives me the impetus to talk about him with my daughters. He remains alive in our thoughts, and thus he is still relevant. May the rabbi and his wife take comfort in imaging their twin daughters as they grow throughout childhood.

Originally published in A Cultural Mix.

In Time of Need: For Times of Loss, We take care of all the details

Dad's Candle - 2013— by Karen Cooke and Shelley Marine

As we hugged the family goodbye, the mourner’s words resonated in our ears, “You truly helped us get through a most difficult time. The loss of a dad is so tough. Thank you for your patience and sound advice.” Once again, we felt the warmth of being allowed into someone’s family when they were vulnerable and really needed a shoulder to lean on.

More after the jump.
Having felt the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one and wishing there was a place to turn for help and guidance, inspired us to form In Time of Need. Our business provides a less stressful alternative to planning and arranging a shiva or memorial service. People are so overwhelmed by the loss of a loved one, and there are so many details that need to be taken care of immediately.  Our service permits the mourner to begin the grieving process, without having to arrange for everything involved in putting together a shiva, or memorial service.

As Judaism mandates that burials happen as soon as possible, we are prepared to drop everything as soon as we receive a call from a client. We clear our schedules so we can be there fully to attend to the family’s needs.  We’re finding that people need help at this time. They are focused on grief and they can’t focus on food, and all the logistics of people coming back to their house after the funeral.

As a Jewish business, In Time of Need understands the specific rituals involved with a death. When Tori W. found she needed help, Joseph Levine and Sons funeral home referred her to In Time of Need. “They helped us with everything. We knew because they were Jewish, everything would be handled in a very specific way,” she observed.

Given the way society has changed, we are convinced more people will be looking for our services in the  future. Children live far from parents, and busy schedules often prevent people from helping in the most difficult times. Many want the option not to think about the details, they want to think about their loved one.
We base our services on the individual needs of each family. In addition to being there for the family the day of the funeral, many have asked us to come back for the remaining days of shiva. We coordinate the meals, prepare and serve dinner, and then turn the home over to receive friends for services, and see to it that everything is put away before they leave. At the end of the night, the mourner is free to simply find some time for themselves. Giving a family comfort is what we strive to do.

Contact: Karen Cooke 267-226-0758, Shelley Marine  484-437-2468, [email protected]