Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Jewish Funerals and Mourning in Israel

Israel, being a Jewish country, and nothing bringing out traditional Jewish values more than death, funerals are much better attended than in most other places.

Recently a neighbor passed away, and people came from all over to pay final respects.

According to Jewish Law/Tradition, the funeral is to honor the dead person. In my experience, being given time off from work to attend a funeral of a friend or neighbor is relatively easy in Israel. And if the dead person is a relative, there isn't 'even a question. Everyone knows that it's a requirement.

Children also attend funerals and memorial events in cemeteries. Death is part of life, and many children are taught about it at the youngest ages. Death isn't hidden.

Our memorial ceremonies, and funerals, include ordinary people talking about, and to, the dead person.

We don't dress up for a funeral in black, and neither does the family. More accurately, the immediate family, the official mourners --children, parent, spouse, sibling of the dead person-- certainly don't dress up in "proper black suits," like you'd see in traditional christian countries. Many Israelis, even those not all that religiously observant, follow the custom of having their shirt/jacket ripped at the funeral. The ripped clothing is worn for the week of mourning, shiva, except for Shabbat. Yes, the same clothing is worn the entire week, except for Shabbat. Hair isn't combed/styled or washed.

The mourner isn't supposed to take care of him/herself. Neighbors and more distant relatives are expected to cook, shop and straighten the house during the shiva week. Mourners are not told to ignore their pain and shock. They aren't supposed to be distracted from it by taking care of their routine household needs.

Shiva visitors are called "comforters." The proper Hebrew term for visiting a mourner is to "comfort" the mourner. Proper conversation during a shiva call is to ask the mourner about the dead person. Side conversations among visitors isn't acceptable behavior. It's not a social call. The center of attention must be the mourner, and if the mourner doesn't feel capable of speaking, it's permitted to ask to see a photo of the dead and see if that helps the mourner.

Serve the mourner; don't expect the mourner to be a host.

Many experts in human psychology say that the Jewish Laws and customs for mourners are most suited for the needs of a mourner.

When you leave the mourner, you say Hamakom yinachem... May the Place/Gd give you comfort...

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