Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Cheshvan 5764 - November 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Sitting Shiva
by Carol Ungar

Everyone came to my father's shiva, everyone -- except my Dad. He was dead, of course, buried in the fresh spring earth, but his soul, which Chazal say still hovers over a man's earthly home for the week following his death, wasn't there. No one invited it in.

Everyone turned out -- neighbors, business associates, cousins and rabbis. There was a lot of talking, much of it about things long gone. I heard about Eastern Europe before the war and I learned a lot about New York City co-op management and real estate taxes and how tough everything is these days. And of course, I heard lots about doctors and hospitals, including the hospital where my Dad spent his final days.

I didn't hear about my Dad -- his life, his accomplishments, his interests, his passions. Like the seven-day memorial candle that burned over the piano in the corner of the living room where we sat, his light was slowly flickering out. Nobody cared enough to try to capture some of that light before it was finally extinguished.

From what I understand, the mourning period exists to allow the community to support the mourner both physically and emotionally. That means sending in platters of cooked food, which we receeived to excess. It also means being open enough to hear the bereaved's feelings of sadness, not trying to snuff out the wound with small talk.

A shiva visitor can help a mourner take stock of his loss by summoning up memories of the departed. To do this, he needn't have been privy to the deceased's inner life. Epic tales are nice if you've got them but small memories, even tiny crumbs of memory, can be very nourishing. At our shiva, we were starved even for these.

All through that week, I would have liked so much to hear someone share some small vignette. It would even have been nice to hear someone say, "Your Dad was a nice man. I'll miss him."

Almost no one said those things.

My Dad was a family man. After surviving the Holocaust, he could hardly believe that Hashem had granted him a new family. He could hardly contain his joy. He snapped thousands of photographs of his small brood and he kept dozens of accordion tie folders filled with pictures my brother and I drew in kindergarten, grade school compositions, poems and old report cards. To my Dad, Auschwitz happened yesterday and he'd grow teary when he recalled his mother, sisters, brother and nieces and nephews, all burned in the crematoria.

America never felt completely right to my Dad. Its crassness and vulgarity were too much for his sensitive spirit. He couldn't speak his heart in English so he remained silent. People thought he was quiet and he was overlooked.

"I thought you wanted to get your mind off the loss," said one cousin who traveled quite far to come offer condolences.

Sorry, you goofed.

I felt that my Dad was invisible, not only in his death but in his life. Here and there, someone turned up who had taken note of my Dad during the days when his body walked the earth.

The sales clerk at the cheese store my father had patronized, an ex-hippie with a pony tail who joined the minyan every morning, noticed. "I used to see your father in Riverside Park and watched him looking at the squirrels and pigeons. He was a beautiful man. We never had any deep conversations but he noticed the details."

It was so gratifying to hear that my father had been noticed, that he existed for someone besides the official mourners.

I was so glad to hear that my father was remembered as someone who noticed the details. Perhaps this is the lesson I was meant to learn from this shiva and my Dad's life -- to be awake, to notice the details.

I hope I can have the eyes to see them.


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