Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sitting Shiva

I am sorry to be posting this one.  It is sad family news, but I wanted to share with all of you, as it has been the focus of the last five days here for us.

Dan's grandma ("safta", in hebrew) passed away Tuesday morning, August 3rd.  Aranka (Bielik) Tieger lived here in Israel, and was a big part of his life while growing up in Haifa in the 1970's-80's.  Dan's parents were on a plane from Prague and crashed with us their first night, Wednesday, before moving to Uncle Igor's.  His brother came in from Phoenix Wednesday night and is crashing with us at the Sheraton now.

Jewish custom is to bury those who have passed within 24 hours.  However, for families who live far apart, and who are not orthodox, this requirement is often relaxed by a day or two.  The funeral was held Thursday evening at sunset.  It took place in an open air ceremonial room with a rabbi singing the prayers for her. The children are the only ones to view the deceased, as a confirmation of identity only, and this is done privately, prior to the ceremony.  They do not prepare the body like I have seen at funerals with open caskets.  The body is wrapped in a simple white sheet, covered by a dark blue velvet cloth with the star of David.  It is the custom for the children of the deceased to have their shirts torn (men by the rabbi, women by another woman).  In more orthodox ceremonies, the men and women would be separated.  After about a 15 minute prayer ceremony, the funeral procession walked down to the grave site.  The cemetary staff carefully lowered her body under the white sheet into the space they had dug, a final prayer was said by the rabbi, and then the staff said prayers as they took turns replacing the red clay earth.  We placed small stones on the grave, as this is the jewish tradition, not flowers.  In a month the grave stone can be laid, and there is an additional ceremony that takes place in a year.

Any parents, children, and siblings of the deceased are expected to "sit shiva" which involves staying at home for 7 days (not include the Sabbath) to receive visitors.  Thursday evening there were at least 30 people at Uncle Igor's apartment.  The purpose of this time is to focus on family and friends to help those closest to the deceased move on.  They had visitors again Friday morning.  Then from Friday afternoon until sundown Saturday, there is a break.  I think that this is at least in part because for the orthodox, you can not "work" on the Sabbath, which includes pushing any buttons (like in elevators) or driving vehicles.  So in theory people wouldn't be able to visit.  Tonight after sunset they expect quite a few visitors again, and this will continue through Wednesday.  Grandchildren are not expected to sit the entire shiva.  We have been going out there every evening for a while though.   We will do that again tonight after dinner.

While I had met Aranka, I did not know her, as she had advanced alzheimers since Dan and I have been together.  She has an incredible life story, beginning in Slovakia, that took her to Australia, then Israel after the war.  I hope to help get her story (she recorded it in Slovak) translated to English, and maybe I can share more in a future post.  She will be missed!

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