Shiva – A Condolence Call

I am one acquainted with death…

I attended my first funeral in 1962. I was four years old. I remember it because it was a Catholic funeral for a neighbor’s son who had been killed by a drunk driver speeding the wrong way up our one way street. Since he often baby-sat for me, my parents thought it best for me to attend. My parents, like many of their friends, were no-nonsense, straightforward people when it came to matters of life and death. I do not remember the words they used to explain death to me. What I do remember is attending the wake at the local funeral home, walking up to the open coffin with my parents, and being lifted up by my mother, so that I could see my babysitter and say “goodbye.” I remembered the ever active, laughing, kind boy laying there in his casket. He was very, very still in his gleaming white shirt and shining black suit coat, he had a gentle smile on his face. I reached out, touched his rosary-wrapped hands and said: “Goodbye, Millo. See you in heaven.” …then my mother lifted me down and I ran outside to play with the other children. No, I am not traumatized by that first funeral, it is a memory of life, laid on my heart…

I am one acquainted with death…

In the past 52 years since Millo’s funeral, I have attended many other funerals.  The ones for “old people” who died natural deaths seem unremarkable to me because they were all funerals following the natural order of life.  The funeral services that have stayed with me, are those belonging to young people: two high school classmates who committed suicide, a college friend who was killed in a car accident, the untimely death of a friend’s little daughter, my husband’s funeral – the first one I attended for a victim of terrorism. All of those funerals have traumatized me…they have left me questioning G-d’s “people skills.” If Noah, our Patriarch Abraham, our Rabbi Moses, and King David could question G-d, then, so too, can everyone of us.  I question His “people skills.” For me, the thing is to keep talking (praying) to G-d and questioning Him…

I am one acquainted with death…

But in all my life, I will never ever understand the death of young people. I will never understand the hate that empowers young Muslim extremist terrorists to blow themselves up on buses, or to blow themselves up in the middle of the streets of our Israeli cities, or to stab Christian pilgrims visiting the Old City of Jerusalem. I will never understand the hate that empowers young Jewish extremist terrorists to shoot people at prayer in a mosque, or to send packaged bombs disguised as holiday gift baskets to the homes of Christians, or to kidnap a Muslim teenager and burn him alive in so-called revenge for the killing of our three Jewish boys…

I am one acquainted with death…

But in all my life, I will never understand war.  I will never understand the hate that empowers human beings to take up arms one against the other … perhaps it is my strong pacifist sentiments that keep me from understanding….

I am one acquainted with death…

My nation Israel is at war with Hamas-Gaza. My home, my children’s homes, my family’s homes, my friends’ homes, five million Israeli homes, are all in the direct line of Hamas-Gaza rocket fire. My Israel Defense Forces, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives are defending us. May G-d bless them and keep them safe.  My enemy’s words ring constantly in my ears: “We will not rest until we have killed all of you and taken over the Land.” My socialist mother’s words ring constantly in my ears: “If your life is ever threatened, put your pacifism to the side. Fight, fight until your last breath – a life for a life but first your own life.”  My G-d’s words ring constantly in my ears: “In that I command you this day to love the L-rd, your G-d, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that you may live and multiply: and the L-rd your G-d shall bless you in the Land where you go to possess it.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 30:6)…

I am one acquainted with death…

But as G-d and my mother commanded I choose life in my Land with my people Israel. … and now due to this war, “Operation Protective Edge”, I find myself attending military funerals for young soldiers and paying condolence calls to their parents…

I am one acquainted with death…

But I do not know how to pay a Shiva (Condolence) Call in houses where young soldiers are being mourned…Today I paid a Shiva call in the peaceful garden of the home of a family from my synagogue. The garden was filled with mourners, each one comforting the family in their own way. I didn’t know what to say, I never know what to say at the Shiva for a young soldier whose parents are sitting there, hollow, and I know they will be hollow forever. I sat down on one of the chairs and for a long time I read Tehillim (Psalms). Suddenly the chair next to the mother of the fallen soldier opened up. I moved forward and sat down. She looked at me. I didn’t know what to say. So, I said nothing. I opened my arms, she fell into them, and I held her … for a long while she cradled herself in my arms.  Then it was time to let her go … I said: “May you know no more sorrow. May you receive comfort from heaven.”  Before letting go of my hand she whispered: “There are people who simply share forward strength and courage. Thank you.”

I am one acquainted with death…

and with the whole House of Israel, I stand before His Throne: “To declare that the L-rd is upright; He is my Stronghold; in Whom there is no injustice.” (Tehillim 92:16)

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