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Shiva: A Chance to Mourn in Community

03/01/2023 09:48:25 AM


Cantor Barbara Powell

Judaism has a structured period of mourning for loved ones which can last up to a year, depending on your relationship to the person who has died. The first of these structured periods of mourning is a seven-day period called Shiva. Shiva begins immediately after the burial of a loved one. The community supports the mourners, for up to seven days, enabling them to say the Mourners Kaddish. Gathering at a house of Shiva is powerful. (This "house" I refer to can be anywhere that is home. You may have noticed sometimes Shiva minyanim are held at CBJ.) Though it can be challenging to put ourselves into a place where grief is being experienced, the simple act of being present and listening brings tremendous comfort to those who are experiencing loss. It reminds me that love, connection, dignity, gratitude, endurance, and community are universal building blocks of life.

At the Kabbalat Shabbat service, just after Lecha Dodi, we acknowledge mourners with the words, "May the Divine comfort you, along with all the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." The focus on connecting shared experience, and on being with the feelings of grief, affirms the potential to heal our hearts despite the pain of loss. Being at a Shiva minyan helps mourners grieve, making the minyan of ten adults, so they are able to recite the Mourners Kaddish in community, rather than doing it alone.

Listening and sharing memories form the core of Shiva, along with prayers and teaching. So often I come away wishing I had known the person being recalled. Their stories are unique and precious. Whether it is the small, personal examples of kindness shown to loved ones, or a harrowing story of survival by someone whose life was touched by the tides of history, I hear stories that stay with me, and give me inspiration. I treasure the threads of wisdom, and weave them into the fabric of my life, so I can be embraced, comforted, or inspired, as the need arises.

This aspect of Jewish communal life may be new to some, or you may feel it's only appropriate for family members to attend, but it is for all of us to support one another during times of grief. The only skills needed are to show up and listen. The next time you see an announcement of a Shiva gathering, even if it is in honor of someone you do not know, please try to attend. You will be doing a mitzvah to support someone, but the experience has the potential feed your soul if you allow it to.

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784