Sitting Shiva takes a pause on the Sabbath, and one can shower, change into different clothing, and imbibe alcohol. I did all three. At the first Friday night dinner after my father died, it was very difficult to get through the pre-meal recitations.
Every week we sing a song called ‘Eshet Chayil’ or ‘Woman of Valor,’ sung to honor your wife, mother, sister. My father would always sing it for my mother, and by the song’s third line I was sobbing. I bucked back up a few lines later, determined to finish. But I could not get the final verse out under the tears.
Another tradition my family keeps is the Sabbath familial blessing. My Dad would bless each of us children, the grandchildren, and any other kids in the house, of any age really. He would always end with ‘You’re covered’ – in his Brooklyn-ese accent the ‘r’s barely pronounced. Even in his state the past two years, I would crouch next to him, put his hand on my head, and ask him if I was ‘covered.’ A few times he would respond. As the time came for blessings it hit me that I would never get the blessing of my father again. And I sobbed some more.
My nephews-in-law and I downed a half bottle of single malt scotch over the course of the meal. More songs were sung, memories shared.
Sabbath came to an end, Shiva resumed. By Sunday night I was heading back to London, and finished Shiva the next morning. This began the next period of mourning called ‘Shloshim‘ or ‘Thirty’ for the number of days it lasts. During Shloshim, you aren’t supposed to listen to music or go to celebrations, shave or cut your hair – so I’ve been looking slightly scruffier than usual. You are also supposed to say the ‘Kaddish‘ or ‘Mourners Prayer’ every day. The Kaddish needs to be said at a service with a ‘Minyan‘ (10 Jewish males). For mourners of parents, the Kaddish needs to be said not only for Shloshim but for 12 months from the time of death.
I am not particularly observant, although I was raised Orthodox. I hardly go to Synagogue, let alone every day to a proper service. But I have been determined to say Kaddish at least once a day for the Shloshim period. Finding a Minyan on a weekday in West London has proven a bit tricky. The most dependable one is the Western Marble Arch Synagogue, a tube ride away. Praying has had to take the place of the gym, and even with the extra walking and biking to/from services, I’m putting on some weight.
The more challenging bit was finding a minyan in Milan. I had a business trip planned, and I needed to find a place to pray. I searched Chabad, and reached out to the main Chabad center – the Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s wife) called me back and recommended two places run by her two sons-in-law. I wondered if they competed? After a few calls, the place with a ‘guaranteed’ minyan was Beit Hatalmud. This was clear across town from the office. So for a 7:00am minyan, I was up early, and the Italian taxi driver did not disappoint – he zipped across Milan along the streets where the trolleys run. The service was a bit different than what I am used to, but the other congregants helped me along. I was able to get back to the office each day using the Metro, which I found very easy to use, clearly signed and inexpensive – €1.50 flat fare to use the system (like NYC). While in Milan I was slightly frustrated by one of the other restrictions for Shloshim and the year – one isn’t supposed to buy new clothing. Some interpret this as fancy clothing like suits – so under garments, T shirts and casual clothing are OK. This restriction probably saved me a lot of money – but I did manage to get to the beautiful Emporio Armani flagship store and leave with a new belt and messenger bag. One of the fun experiences was taking a trolley tour around the city. Work organized this for us one evening, including nibbles and drinks. The weather didn’t quite participate, so the sights were a bit grey – still a fun experience I would recommend to get a good lay of the land. The food and drink in Milan didn’t disappoint – lovely veal Milanese (natch) at Ristorante da Ilia, wood-fire pizza at Piccola Ischia, and Aperol and Campari spritzes in the Navigali area right off the canals.
Now back in London for Sabbath and the Shavuot holiday, bouncing between services at the Sephardic Holland Park Synogogue and Western Marble Arch. Next week I trek to Disneyland Paris for a presentation .. Does Mickey Mouse count for a Minyan? Let’s see…