You go in. You take a moment to assess the mood. If the family are drowning in grief and the mood is sombre you proceed in comfort and commiseration mode. If the family are cheering themselves up with amusing stories and anecdotes about the deceased you smile and add your stories to the collection. If there are a number of mourners they are often spread around the room to be able to talk to their own visitors. You join the circle of chairs around your friend, say a few nice words on entering the group and then go with the flow of conversation. It's not that hard despite the potential awkwardness of the situation. You stay for at least half an hour but not more than an hour unless it's an extremely close friend in which case you might stay all day.
Yesterday's shiva was a bit different. Three of the mourners live in my neighbourhood, I taught some of their children many years ago, I've been to their homes and we chat when we meet in the street. That's enough to warrant a shiva call. However, I also wanted to go because their late father was Rabbi David Hartman. A modern Jewish philosopher (The modern Jewish philosopher) and the most inspiring speaker I've ever had the honour of hearing in person. For me, the most inspiring figure in the modern Jewish world.
|Rabbi David Hartman Z"L|
I've long had similar thoughts that I've ranted in a very ineffectual manner to a few like-minded friends. I don't have what it takes to change the [Jewish] world or even make any waves. For that you need an intellectual powerhouse like David Hartman Z"L. I wanted, maybe even needed, to pay my respects.
I went to the shiva and it was packed. Each of the mourners I know had a circle of 10, 15, 20 people around them and they were deep in conversation. I went round to each one and, interrupting as one does, said how much I admired their father. I found a chair and sat for a couple of minutes but I wasn't really helping any so I decided to leave. I went to the son, Donniel, first...
"I'm going to go. There are so many people here and I don't really know what to do with myself."
Donniel answered with a chuckle, "yes I see that."
"Mumble mumble mumble Yerushalayim" (It's something you say in Hebrew meaning: May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem - I know the words but I can never get my tongue around it so I just mumble.)
I went and mumbled again to two of the sisters, interrupting them again. On my way out I mumbled to Mrs Hartman who doesn't know me from Adam but I thought it the polite thing to do. I probably should have mumbled to the other sister and brother who I don't know but I didn't - sorry about that.
Not my most successful shiva visit but I'm glad I went. The Jewish world lost a great man this week and I, a lapsed worshiper who doesn't study or learn religious stuff and who is very flexible with the rules, I feel the loss.