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Sitting Shiva Post-Election

It wasn’t until people started calling me on Wednesday to express their condolences for “my loss” that I realized that I am grieving. I’m not grieving because I am disappointed that we didn’t shatter the glass ceiling, or because my party didn’t “win.” I am grieving because a candidate was elected to this country’s highest office by running on a platform of hatred and fear. I am grieving for the America I knew, for all of the setbacks that women and minorities are going to suffer, and for all the progress that was about to be undone.

As early as Wednesday morning, my friends posted messages of hope, statements of solidarity, and calls to action. But I could not get out of bed.

In the Jewish tradition, there is a stage of grief called aninut, between the death of a loved one and their burial. The rules and rhythms of life are temporarily suspended, so that we can attend to our most immediate needs. Aninut is followed by shiva, seven days of ritualized grieving that begins after burial.

This concept of mourning brought me great comfort this week. While I could not put the tasks of life aside, the idea of shiva allowed me to admit that I am not okay.

Here are a few ways that I observed my shiva:

1) Tzedakah: The only thing that made me feel strong enough to get out of bed was to give to organizations that will fight to protect our freedoms. I started with Planned Parenthood, Lambda Legal, and my community’s Refugee Resettlement Project. (I also ordered a Nasty Woman T-shirt, which supports Planned Parenthood and will double as my Vashti costume this Purim).  

2) Lamentation: In times of tragedy, the Jewish people expressed their grief through songs called kinot. This week, it seemed like even my Spotify account was weeping. The song that best expressed my grief was an Israeli one: Ein Li Eretz Acheret (I have no other land): “With an aching body/ and a hungry heart/ Here is my home/ I will not stay silent/ Because my country changed its face.”

3) Meal of Consolation: In the Jewish tradition, there is a meal known as seudat hav’ra-ah, the first meal a mourner eats when coming back from the cemetery. The meal is designed to provide simple sustenance to a person who can barely eat. Round foods—lentils, bread, eggs—remind us that the cycle of life goes on. Friends prepare food for the mourner, so that they can feel supported and loved. My minister friends and I got together to share food and to discuss the challenge of comforting others while grieving ourselves.

4) Shabbat: The laws of mourning are suspended for Shabbat, but many members of my community sought out the synagogue as a place to process their grief. Our community is politically diverse, but it was easy to see that everyone was seeking the same thing: support and comfort in a time of deep brokenness in our country.

5) Naming a Baby: I officiated at baby namings for one-year-old girls on both the Sunday before the election, and the Shabbat afterwards, and they were particularly bittersweet in the context of this election. There is nothing more soothing than holding an infant to your chest, and nothing more hopeful than welcoming a child into the world. With a child so young, we could dare to hope that she might still inherit a better world. But I wondered how life might change for this child, and her two mothers, in the years to come.

6) Returning to Life: It is customary for the community to walk the mourner around the block at the end of shiva, returning them to their everyday life. For me, this was meeting with community organizations that will help us fight the fights we know are coming.

Mourning doesn’t end with shiva, as one continues to recite Kaddish every day for one month for a spouse, or eleven months for a parent. But after shiva, we return to the world of the living. I’m not sure how long sitting shiva for a country might last, as we still don’t know what losses we have yet to mourn in the days to come. But at some point, we have to get up and return to the land of the living, with all its fighting, organizing, and voting. I’m still grieving, but I’ve made my circle around the block. It’s time to move forward now. There is work to be done.

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3 Comments

"a candidate was elected to this country’s highest office by running on a platform of hatred and fear."

-I disagree. I don't believe Trump won. I believe Hillary lost. Hillary and the DNC did everything they could to ignore, diminish, and alienate the majority of their voters when they insisted on continuing with their planned coronation rather than choosing the candidate for whom the people were clamouring and the only one who could have beaten Trump (i.e., Bernie Sanders). Love him or hate him, the DNC shot themselves in the foot on this one (and screwed America into a Trump presidency in the process). I hope they've learned their lesson.

Thank you rabbi Leah for putting into words what so many of us are experiencing and for connecting the dots in terms of our Jewish wisdom. My week was very similar and my feelings so parallel to what you so beautifully described and articulated. I had to officiate two memorial services and could not help thinking that the two elderly men i memorialized were in some way fortunate to not have to face what is coming next. I agree that there is work to be done and that we all have to find a way to be "up to the task" whatever the task in which we choose to invest our love and power. thank you! Rabbinic Chaplain Sandra Wortzel

And as for the idea of a glass ceiling, do remember that Bernie's supporters were rooting for Elizabeth Warren as the preferred VP pick. Also recall that Hillary Clinton, the "glass ceiling" poster girl, pays the women she employs less than she pays the men. It seems to me that while there are sexist pockets in American society, the people, by and large, are ready and willing to see and accept women in positions of power - the establishment on the other hand, maybe not so much.

This is Where I Leave You, Main Image, Film, 2015
Full image
Image from "This is Where I Leave You," Dir. Shawn Levy, 2015.
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How to cite this page

Berkowitz , Leah. "Sitting Shiva Post-Election." 15 November 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 13, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/sitting-shiva-post-election>.

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