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Am I supposed to have this much fun at a…. shiva house?

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?

{ 27 comments… add one }
  • s(b.) May 4, 2008, 11:12 PM

    BDE re: your uncle, man. Glad you got something to eat.

  • heshman May 4, 2008, 11:18 PM

    What is BDE?

  • anon May 4, 2008, 11:47 PM

    Boruch Dayan Emes

  • Keith May 5, 2008, 12:47 AM

    Great post- love the long ones- interesting take on such touchy subject

  • dave May 5, 2008, 6:10 AM

    a few months ago, my grandpa died and my uncle came over (to england) from america to sit shiva, and despite the sadness, we all had a whole lot of fun catching up and cracking jokes… it was so strange, tbh!

  • s(b.) May 5, 2008, 8:52 AM

    bde = barch dayan emes

  • s(b.) May 5, 2008, 8:54 AM

    baruch (stupid typo)

  • Hesh May 5, 2008, 8:57 AM

    Glad I’m not the only one having a ball!

  • s(b.) May 5, 2008, 9:12 AM

    I thought balls were banned last week. (if you don’t laugh, you cry)

  • ~ Sarah ~ May 5, 2008, 6:39 PM

    Yeh, sometimes it’s hard to tell what the boundaries are for fun or cheerfulness at a shiva house but sometimes a bit of something positive helps much more than sitting around being glum. But there are limits… obviously (as i discovered which is a story for another time).

    (Totally unrelated – I went to Monsey today just to say I’ve been there. Just a few more chasidic looking ppl than in australia!)

  • Mikeinmidwood May 5, 2008, 9:49 PM

    I was one time by a shiva and I felt kinda awkward when I really had nothing to say. I didnt want to say the neshama should have an aliyah cuz they probably heard that a million times. It was a weird experience.

  • Conservative SciFi May 5, 2008, 9:54 PM

    I was just at a shiva for relatively young guy (52) who died of cancer and the mood was pretty grim. When the Shiva is for someone well up in years who gently passed on, I often find that the atmosphere can be calm and people can enjoy the recollections of the person with less sadness.

  • heshman May 5, 2008, 11:05 PM

    Its true Conservative- I don’t remember my moms shiva being all that light hearted. I just remember it was the only time we ever had adults in out house- besides my dads gf

  • Jon May 6, 2008, 1:33 AM

    My sister was 24 when she passed. At night when the community stopped by during the shiva days the mood was obviously pretty girm. However, during the day when only the close friends and family were around, the atmosphere was much more light.

    I guess it depends on who you are with.

  • Jerry May 6, 2008, 9:32 AM

    shiva house is a great place to cruise for babes

  • heshman May 6, 2008, 10:33 AM

    Does anyone remember the wonder years episode where Kevin makes out with this girl who’s brother just died?

  • Beb-Yehudah May 7, 2008, 6:03 AM


    What difference does it make if those kids were Sephardi?

    That comment seemed like a total red herring.

  • s(b.) May 7, 2008, 7:35 AM

    winnie! that was a long time coming, though (that show was so awesome when I was growing up, listening to music of and studying that era, anyway; thanks for the flashback).

  • heshman May 7, 2008, 10:44 AM

    You know whats funny- winnie was not even that good looking, though at the time every kid always had a crush on her- kind of like stephanie from Full House- or whats her name from Whos the Boss- or growing pain- which one had Alyssa Milano.

  • stacy May 7, 2008, 11:50 AM

    hesh you made my day with the wonder years reference, funny i remember every episode of those shows- saved by the bell, family matters ect…i really felt like i knew them

    i’ve been to a few shiva calls sort of like this – usually for somone very old or young- and i think its a greatway to remember the desceased

  • heshman May 7, 2008, 12:36 PM

    Stacy for some reason I thought you were too young to know this stuff- but the n again your comments seem pretty mature besides for the lack of capitalization- so I can never tell.

  • s(b.) May 7, 2008, 1:16 PM

    dude, stacy should come hang. stace, if you’re up for it, check where you commented on my page for more info. I forgot, are you afraid of playing outside?

  • s(b.) May 7, 2008, 1:17 PM

    I don’t mean scared afraid, I just mean not into …

  • Hee Hee May 7, 2008, 2:11 PM

    Alyssa Milano was in whos the boss.

    How about Brenda from 90210.
    Or Lauren Fontain from USA High…oh man i can go on forever with the shows from my childhood!

  • heshman May 7, 2008, 3:42 PM

    Brenda was Jewish- but I was so into Kelly- stop it- its time to write a post on all my pre pubescent TV show crushes

  • stacy May 7, 2008, 4:27 PM

    I’m waiting for that one. i personally loved dylan from 90210- like every other girl i guess- oh and zack from saved by the bell, and hobie from baywatch.
    i dont know what you consider young, but most of my favorite writers or bands are dead or on their way.
    the reason i dont capitalize is bec. i am prob the worst typist to ever live (the only class i ever failed was computer class).

    sb- you are totally kickass.

    and i now have the theme song to charles in charge stuck in my head , thanks a lot.

  • Batya May 18, 2008, 12:04 AM

    Sure, I’ve had plenty of laughs at shiva homes. People talk about the funny things the niftar did etc. Shiva is seven long days, mostly.

    In Israel, people serve, mostly because of the sfardi influence. Some eidot serve major meals every night, certainly the last night. Or the Ashkenazim give something since people have traveled, at least juice/water/soda and cookies/pretzels/cake.

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