Excerpt from Miriam’s Kitchen by Elizabeth Ehrlich
Here in my aunt’s house, the survivors would “sit shiva.” Shiva, from seven in Hebrew, names the week’s span of hardest mourning, after the washed, shrouded body is placed in the silent earth. The week is commuted for feast days and Yom Kippur, and suspended for Sabbath. The bereaved mourn hard and sad, but they mourn according to rule and rite—minutely detailed, immortal, and fixed—not as they might choose to mourn, or ever might devise.
For the bubbe’s religion envelops death, as well as life. There are instructions and warnings, some in the Torah, some codified by generations of teachers, and some, the most mysterious, passed from one bubbe to another. I ask you, where is it written that there must be a dish of hard-boiled eggs on the table when the mourners, stricken and stunned, return from the burial ground? Yet so it should be, and so it is…
I have never yet been to a shiva where women were counted in the minyan. I am unlearned; were I counted, I would not know what to do. In other settings, this worries and offends me, but not in this one. Shiva, for me, still is about that old-time female web, the embroidery with which women build and embellish.
The pattern was set for me at my first remembered shiva, in the old-fashioned style familiar to the bubbe, in whose honor it was held. My impulse, on a shiva call, is to draw close, hold a lonely hand, fix a chopped liver sandwich for a grieving friend, that is all. Still, I hope that a minyan will gather when I die, and that it will have women in it.
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