For those unfamiliar with Shiva, it is the seven day mourning period followed by the loss of an immediate family member. Judaism forces you to confront your loss head on, and after tearing a piece of your clothing at the funeral, you are confined to the home of the deceased for 1 week.
During this time you aren’t allowed to bath for pleasure, wear leather shoes or jewelry and all household mirrors are covered. Yes, you heard me right… Not having access to mirrors nearly drove me insane. No surprises there. I am extremely vain and find myself checking out my reflection every chance I get. But this custom truly forces you to look inside yourself and confront what you are really feeling.
During the Shiva week, friends and family traditionally arrive with food and come spend time with you. Sitting Shiva is designed to overwhelm you with emotion, an abundance of carbohydrates, a nonstop stream of special people, and for a person like me, who likes my own quiet space, it created severe almost crippling claustrophobia.
By the end of day seven, after being locked indoors unable to leave, I had such cabin fever I was ready to claw my way to freedom…. In its’ own magical way Shiva forced me to go through the pain so I was excited to start living again.
The night my mom arrived in heaven, South Africa witnessed a flood like no other. I like to call it “STORM ELEANOR”. For those that weren’t in Johannesburg, just google the photos of the November 7th flood. It was raining sideways with hail the size of golf balls, that I was sure were going to crack the skylights. It was the most rain recorded in Johannesburg in 42 years.
If you knew my mom, you would understand that only she could cause such mayhem. When she arrived upstairs she stopped the angels from gently plucking their harps and began rearranging things her way…
She told me many times in the last few months, that she had some things in heaven she needed to get done and she wasted no time getting started. I also have no doubt that my dad, realizing his vacation was officially over, put in a request for a transfer. Let’s hope he got one.
And the rain continued for 3 days (I’m just grateful it wasn’t another Noah situation). We live in the bottom of a dip and the roads around our house were flooded. No one could get to us for prayers, unless they were prepared to swim. One of our dear friends nearly drowned in his car on our street (true story…so glad Brad and his sunglasses made it to dry land).
It was soul destroying. I was running around our complex in the pouring rain like a drowned rat, trying to gather a minion to say Kaddish. I actually told Rabbi Carlebach of Chabad of Lyndhurst (a man so amazing he deserves an entire post so stay tuned) that my mom had designed the storms to send my sister and I a message… we only have each other. Message received mammela (cue….stop with the rain. My curly hair I cannot blow dry without a mirror is begging you!!)
It was also not lost on me, that my mom’s Shiva fell over the Shabbos project. A night when so many Jews around the world kept Shabbos. More challahs were baked, more candles were lit and more brochas were made than any other night of the year. The challah bake was just around the corner from my home.
People dropped off not one, but 19 challahs. The concert that followed the Shabbos project was within earshot of my backyard. I sat outside on Saturday night and wept tears of pain and joy as the horas, dancing and simchas continued. Hashem and my mom were sending us signs. This was no co-incidence.
This is not the first time I have sat Shiva. In fact, 6 years ago after losing my dad, I decided to sit shiva in my own home in LA. I did this because I had always clashed and butted heads with my mom (more on this in a future post). We were like dynamite and a fuse and instead of spending a week battling it out with her, I decided it would be better to sit in peace. My then 6 year old daughter went off to her Chabad camp and I was able to be alone with my thoughts and memories.
I belong to an amazing Jewish community in LA and during the week friends stopped by and every night someone would bring us dinner. But it was nothing, and I mean nothing compared to the scale of love and support I witnessed from the Jewish community in South Africa. I don’t believe a community like this exists anywhere else in the world. It is astounding!!
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the mountains of food that would pour in. Lasagnas, chickens, pastries, salads, fruit, sandwiches, cakes, dinner etc etc… Enough food to feed a small army and you gotta know coming from a chef that is in the habit of over catering, that I am speaking the truth, when I say it was impossible to go hungry and every single morsel was devoured and enjoyed.
But it wasn’t just the food. In fact that was the smallest part. It was the company. The friends that came to sit with and support us. And most of them didn’t come just once. They came every single day, even with the rain. We told funny stories that made me laugh and I drank enough coffee to keep me awake till 2018. They were just there when we needed them to be.
They had lives of their own, kids they needed to feed or chauffer around and errands they needed to run. But that didn’t stop them from sitting with us for hours on end. They shared their most precious gift with us. Their time…
This little close knit Jewish community in South Africa made me realize how much more I want to do in my own community when someone is going through hard times. I now know that I will be the first to rush to someone’s side when they experience a loss. It makes no difference what religion they are, shiva is a beautiful custom to be shared with everyone around us.
I encourage you to join in and make a difference. And I am hoping that wherever you are in the world you are not only reading this, but that the next time you hear about someone’s passing you take the time out of your busy schedule to sit with them. We can make a difference one mitzvah at a time.
Sending love, light and blessings . Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you (you know who you are) for just showing up
xxx Chef MM