My week of shiva was a profound experience, and I am grateful to everyone who took the time to touch base with me, whether by phone or FaceBook, e-mail or of course, by paying a shiva call or by your presence at one of the three shiva minyanim at my home.
From time to time I will be sharing some reflections on my mourning journey. I welcome you to share thoughts from your own shiva experience. If you do so, please post it on this blog as opposed to Facebook.
The power of Jewish practice during mourning.
I write this as thousands mourn those slain in this week’s Jerusalem massacre. I cannot begin to imagine the grief of those who will be mourning there in the days and weeks to come. My experience is obviously a different one. What is common is that community will gather around the mourners and hold them within the structure that has been built with חסד- kindness - by those who came before us. How indebted we are to their insight, and to the container that is shiva, shloshim, and shana. Already I have begun to sense the process beginning to work - from mourning, to harvesting, to integration. The process is not a linear one, and I can powerfully feel that it will remain active within me for a long time to come.
I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional power of Facebook. Many of you read my original post about my mother’s passing. It received the highest number of hits of anything I have ever posted, over 300 in 3 days on FB and on Weebly where my blog is hosted. Many of you posted condolences, and some of you IM’d me, including just this second, someone who I have not spoken to or seen for perhaps 25 years and who has never met my mother! He wrote:
“Just saw your brother in law in Denver and he told me about your recent loss. I am very sorry to hear the news. May you and your family be blessed with nechama, comfort and support.”
How blessed I am. News travels fast in our small, tightly woven Jewish world. I sometimes joke that there are only 36 Jews in the world and we all run around in circles, making contact with each other over and over again. As a mourner, I feel sonsolation from being held by my community.
I could not help but notice that several people commented on my sister’s FB page: “Is there anything that I can do?” or “Please let me know what I can do?” Not to say that we Jews have a monopoly on kindness, but these offers came from non Jews. Yidn are blessed to have a response in the form of action already put in place by tradition. Renée shared with me that a non-Jewish friend of hers was so moved by Renée’s experience during the mourning process after her mother died that the friend took on a similar practice after the loss of a loved one in her life.
Such is the power of our tradition. We don’t offer - we do. One friend offered to pick me up from the train station when I arrived post burial in DC from NJ; another sent a platter of food that lasted all week; another showed up with a carload of food that could feed an entire town, bought by monies collected from 8 other friends; each night 25-30 friends showed up for shiva minyanim, listened to me tell stories about my mom, sang with me, prayed with me, laughed with me, and then knew when to leave, all except the few who lingered to ease my transition from full house to being alone with my thoughts once again.
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and