I walked in during the middle of maariv, I was in a mixed mood, I had just driven through 2 hours of traffic to get from Monsey to Brooklyn and I hadn’t eaten since lunch. I was starving, stretching and standing in a small hallway trying not to touch the little sephardi kids butt who was shuckeling wildly in front of me. Every time his butt came up for contact with my legs- he was way shorter then me- I jumped back, but then I slammed my butt into the old guy with one of those shtetle caps standing in back of me. I couldn’t win, I was in a battle of the butts.
I looked around the room and tried to see over the standing crowd whether there was some food or not. To tell you the truth I couldn’t really think of anything else besides food- and that scared me, I mean how selfish was I to come to a shiva house seeking food, man I am pathetic. Then my cousin Danny said Kadesh and began shmoan esray and you could hear the pain in his voice- this changed my mood- suddenly I felt pity- I felt like crap actually- such crap did I feel that I actually had a kavanah filled shmona esray which is a true rarity unless I happen to be on top of a mountain.
After maariv came the awkward part, the part in which I assumed the folks sitting shiva sat at the front of the room like politicians and waited for limp hand shakes from people who said hamokom yenachem and may the neshama have an aliyah, it kind of reminded me of book signings- its similar in fact- the author sits around while people shake his/her hand and say I loved your book or I’m your biggest fan.
I sat down on this really comfortable chair with arm rests and immediately my father yelled at me to get up and took the seat instead. I then was told that all the mourners sit on the most comfortable chairs in the house. Funny because I started wondering where to get these short chairs- because they looked like the best strategy for making it through kinos on tesha ba’av.
Everyone is awkward at shiva houses, all the non relatives just stand around like idiots and wonder what to do and the mourners just chill. I felt a little awkward, in fact it brought back memories of the time that I sat shiva for my mother. It was 20 years ago this past February that my mother (Esther Gittel bas Yechezkel- may she have an aliyah) was nifter- I kind of like the frummy term for passed away- has a nice ring to it. Anyway I remember the embarrassment- do you know what its like to grow up without a mother? Its not even the fact she’s not there that’s embarrassing- its having your friends talk about how good their moms cook, or what their mother does when they stay home from school etc… Its maddening and then to mumble that your mom is dead- oh the hurt- and especially since I stuttered- even worse- hence I became the kid who beat everyone up- which is ironic because I am so unfit to fight now, a weakling they may call it.
Anyway my stomach is at defcon four and growling to the point where people are saying, “I beg your pardon- did you say something?” No it was just my stomach, then I turn to my father and he says- something that sounded like “you moron- this is a Jewish event and the only way we could get people to come is if we had food” I wondered what lay in the kitchen, besides my uncle who was sitting with a plate of salad. Pizza boxes were piled high, and there were pans of eggplant parmigan- it was like I was high or something- like a seen out of half baked. I was so happy, I tried to fight it and feel somber for my fathers oldest brother yanky who had just passed away, but I couldn’t. I immediately got to work on some eggplant parm and some pizza.
My brother and father joined me and my uncle at the table and then the fun began. Old people are way different then young people, especially old people who are similar. Its funny to see my father with his brothers and sisters, no matter where their lives have taken them they all think the same and talk the same way. My uncle Leiby from Buffalo who was seated with his salad, owned drive in theaters and liquor stores, was in the Navy, has an economist mind and has a Lubavitch shliach and two irreligious sons as well. He is one of my more interesting relatives, my cousin Arny plops his big butt down and looking more like an auto mechanic then a Pharmacy owner- he says to no one in particular “where are the Carpethian Mountains?” A fight ensues between my dad and his brother and my cousin.
They can all agree about them being somewhere in the Ukraine, Romania and other countries that change their borders every year area. Then in turns into some random discussion about how Carpethian Jews were nuts and suddenly the argument turns to drilling for oil in Alaska. My father never agrees with anyone by the way, he always has to be the most right wing- except when it comes to gays and the environment, and animal rights.
I had missed the funereal on Monday because I was on a delayed flight back from Denver, but I had come at the tail end. The part where everyone waits on line to wash their hands before leaving the cemetery. I had mentioned something about going to Trader Joes because people in Monsey do not have access to fresh produce for reasonable prices. Then like all arguments in my family, my dad started debating with a bunch of people about how Brighton beach has the cheapest and best produce and my one uncle started saying Boro Park has the best and then my cousin said something reminiscing about the old fruit market next to the trolley tracks. From my lack of experience with real funereals I started wondering what my uncle Yanky was thinking, was he bothered by the fact that they had just buried him and in the cemetery there was an argument about the fruit prices of Brighton Beach versus Boro Park?
So I am quickly filling up on pizza and my brother hands me a picture from 1973 of all the brothers and sisters besides one. My old man has long hair, his brother shloimi is wearing a plaid suit and everyone has bowties on- it was very funny- I took a duplicate. Then I introdude myself to my cousins wife, who I haven’t seen in at least 10 years. We get to talking about the number one subject running through all 40 year old women’s minds- shidduchim. I say I am in the market although I feel a recession coming on and it turns out she started one of these neighborhood shidduch groups, for women who wanted something to compare to Tupperware parties. So we get to talking and filling out the form, but in the back of my mind I am thinking- am I supposed to be having this much fun at a shiva house?