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of grief.

One of the main things that I've learned this year, my year abroad, is that grief is cross-cultural.

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite teachers at the school I work in lost his father. He disappeared for a week because he sat shiva, and came back to work with a full beard and a hollowness in his eyes that was not there before. He was quieter, calmer, and nodded his head at me instead of smiling as he usually did.

His first day back, I sat with him in the teacher's lounge and asked him how he was, how the shiva went, how I could help him. He told me that just me paying attention to life was all he could ask for, that my youth shouldn't be wasted. He told me stories about his father, who I had never met, and about his childhood as a young boy in a new Israel.

It felt like a shiva of its own.

For Jews, sitting shiva is one of the most important parts of Judaism. We celebrate birth, life, and death almost in the same manner. During a shiva, mourners shut down for 7 days. Traditionally, they do not bathe in warm water, and men do not shave their beards. The grievers sit on low benches, stools, or the floor whilst in a shiva household and do not go to work until the 7 days are over. As they sit shiva, guests come to pay their respects. The guests bring food, flowers, presents, and well-wishes. It is a mitzvah (blessing) to drink and tell stories to honor the dead.

And that is my favorite part. The stories.

My grandmother on my father's side passed away last night.

I am 7,000 miles from home, and will not make it in time for the funeral. All I can do is sit my own version of a makeshift shiva in this new place and remember her.

  • When I was 7 or 8, my father and I took a trip to Israel together to see our family that lives here. We stayed at my grandparents' place and I was spoiled rotten for a week. I got to watch cartoons all day, go to the beach, and play games in the neighborhood park. That week, my grandmother realized that I loved the sour cream in Israel, specifically, and fed it to me non-stop. I remember scooping it straight out of the container and gulping it down without even tasting it. I really don't know why. I remember my dad coming out into the living room, taking one look at me, and bursting into laughter. I never liked milk or dairy products, so it was a surprise to everyone. My dad told me to slow down and maybe eat something real. My grandmother brought out a brand new container of sour cream when he wasn't looking.

  • When she first moved to the States and we were having a conversation about her youth and she started complaining about the smallest things. My whole life, I had been compared to her, and I finally understood why. A diva can recognize a diva. I don't know why this first conversation sticks with me, or why it makes me so warm inside, but it does. It is something about understanding my roots. Why I am the way I am. We can't escape our DNA.

  • She and I had the same hair, the same height, and a real hatred of the doctor's office (which has been pointed out to me on more than a few occasions)

My favorite thing about her is that she raised my father, who is the funniest, smartest, most dedicated person I know (besides my mom, obviously). I can only be grateful. I can only be comforted that she is no longer in pain, she is no longer confused, and that she leaves behind a family that will remember her, always.

Another part of a shiva is lighting a yahrzeit candle. It burns for 24 hours, and is lit at sundown starting the first day of a shiva. Afterwards, it is lit every year on the anniversary of someone's passing.

I don't have that special candle, and I don't have a special nightlight. So I guess the half-priced, lavender, candle I bought at the shuk will just have to do.

(And if that isn't the most Israeli/Jewish thing ever, I don't know what is)

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