Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SHIVA - שבעה

My husband's mother passed away a week ago early in the morning and we buried her the same day, with the designated ceremony, according to Jewish custom. Then we "sat Shiva".
Shiva means being in the home of the deceased for seven days of mourning. The house is open to anyone who wants to visit and give condolences. Paying a visit to a Shiva is considered to be a "mizvah", a good deed.

I am not Jewish and when I first came to Israel many years ago, I found this tradition very strange. I could not understand why people would be content with many callers every day. I thought mourning to be something very individual and private and that I would like to be alone with my tears and sorrow and despair after losing someone beloved. I could not see how this could be shared with so many so short after the sad event. I changed my opinion completely. I attended many funerals here, and paid my respect at the Shivas that followed.  I noticed to my astonishment how comforting this always was for the mourners and how it gave them an opportunity to start dealing with their grief. The different ethnic groups have individual practices, regarding for example prayers and refreshments and food for themselves and the visitors. But there are fundamental rules of how to practice the Shiva for all people of Jewish faith. Sitting Shiva is indispensable for the nearest relatives, which means parents, son, daughter, siblings and spouses. The Shiva lasts for seven days, during which the family members gather in the home of the deceased, but the Shiva can be held at other locations too. There are many rules and restrictions. Have a look about them at Wikipedia.
No one in my husbands family is religious and the rules are not strictly enforced. But the sitting of the Shiva takes place. It was held in my father-in-law's home.
My parents-in-law arrived from Irak 1950, two years after the State of Israel was established. They started building a life and like any other newcomers encountered many hardships. There are a lot of stories to tell, and at our Shiva they got told. Many memories of my mother-in-law surfaced, and her husband, who was heartbroken by her loss, slowly calmed down. He got engulfed in the stories, especially those from Baghdad, and he even contributed to them, and within his cries there were smiles and even laughter. We put photo albums on the table and people loved to look at the pictures from old times and many had to add their own anecdote to them, spinning a yarn of events that span from Irak to Israel. This was all very dear and comforting, and interesting. I never tire of the tales of my husband's family and I heard some I still did not know. A Shiva can be an opportunity to bring the family closer together, to get hugs from friends and comforting and soothing words. My mother-in-law was very old and her time had come. But I attended Shivas of much more heartbreaking deaths - and still I got to see the same momentary wonderful results of the consolation the visitors gave to the mourners.

The seven days of Shiva for my mother-in-law are over. Her name was Tikva, which means hope, and it is not only my hope, but I know that she will be remembered and mentioned and talked about by all of us very often. Rest in peace Tikva!


Dawn of LaTouchables said...

I can imagine this was a beautiful time for the family to gather comfort, as you so well describe it, Yael. When my dad passed away, it was an important time for us as well, and I remember the time spent after the service as very similar--and we saw many relatives and friends--it was lovely.

glazedOver Pottery said...

So very true, and beautifully put. Rest in peace, Tikva.

Annuk said...

Thank you for this wonderful post, Yael. I can see the beauty and importance of this beautiful custom, it's therapeutic and so positive, it helps celebrate Life. And the way you described it is so beautiful and poetic. It brought back to my mind the wonderful post you wrote about the visit to your mother-in-law... the late sun shining on her face, the flowers, the atmosphere... it had deeply touched me. Exactly like this post did. Thank you dear Yael.
May Tikva rest in piece, accompanied by love and memories she left.

Eva said...

This is a very moving story. And it shows how much sense is in habits like this. So your parents-in-law came from Babylon to Israel...
I once was invited to a Turkish family who did something like the shiva, although of course they did not call it so. A distant uncle of my ex-husband had died. The house was full and there was a coming and going, and we just sat there while my husband talked to the relatives in a low voice. I don't know how much of comfort it was for the family, but it showed them how many friends and relations did care.

zsazsazsu said...

Dear Yael,
my condolences on Tikva's passing away from this world. I am not religious too, but I think this shiva is a far better way to get over the loss of somebody than the rituals we have here. This was a very touching post.
Happy for you that you have good memories of her.

Irmi said...

Liebe Yael,
daanke für Deine tollen Erklärungen.
Bei meinen Reisen nach China, Nepal und Japan wurde ich immer wieder mit dem Gott Shiva konfrontiert.
Liebe Grüsse zu dir

wanda miller said...

Thank you for this BEAUTIFUL post. i just wrote a lenthy note here, but it didn't take and now have to run to work...i shall do it again, later. xo

Bernstein said...

Sit tibi terra levis, Tikva.
Und ohne viele Worte schicke ich Dir und Deiner Familie eine tröstende feste Umarmung.

GlG Inbar

Hilde said...

Thank you for this beautiful post, Yael. I think this is a good custum to be with family and friends and share comfort in a time of mourning. It was very touching to read.
She will always be in your memories. Rest in peace Tikva.

art spirit said...

Such a great post. Thank you so much for sharing the traditions of your family. The shiva sound like a good way to commeorate a loved ones life.

wanda miller said...

YAEL, this struck such beauty and positive ness with me. i HAVE always felt that i wish funerals, could just be a personal deal..i have changed my mind after your sharing. seeing how important, each and every person needs something different than ourselves. to be a part of your family and your embracing the habits with such respect is to BE THE BEST YOU COULD BE...and then better in the sharing with us! i thank you! xo

Pesky Cat Designs said...

My deepest sympathy and condolences to you and your family.

What a beautiful post Yael. Thanks for sharing her life with us and the tradition of Shiva. Rest in peace dear Tikva.