Shiva. I am at my parents’ home at 7am on a Sunday morning. Bewildered. Exhausted. This is the first morning of services, as my Dad’s funeral was Friday, and we don’t sit shiva on Shabbat. I watch as relatives, friends, acquaintances file in, silently counting men. The room was filled with some two dozen participants. Our dear Rabbi started the proceedings, led them, and made sure we three shell-shocked mourners were guided along. Afterwards, a buffet breakfast, and the sombre atmosphere gave way to Sunday morning. The house remained filled, ebbing and flowing all day, culminating in evening prayers and then, silence.
The following morning, I am watching the door well before 7 as again, subdued men trickle in and head downstairs to the family room ‘chapel’. Today is our first weekday, and we’re struggling to get to our quorum of ten. My younger son takes charge, making sure we who are new at this can stumble through Kaddish without feeling rushed or inadequate. He is so capable, yet gentle, aware that not everyone in our sparse crowd is fluent. As it is Monday, the Torah is taken out and this week’s chapter read. Opening the small Ark is an honour, and my son spies an older gentleman I do not initially recognize. “P’ticha“, he says directly to the seated fellow. The man looks at him blankly, does not react. “P’ticha“, he repeats, a little loude. Too late, I realize who he is, and why he isn’t complying. Getting no response, my son calls on another participant, by name this time. This second man rises, does as asked, and the Torah is brought out. For the first time in days, I am able to catch a wisp of the mischief of life that has always delighted both my Dad and me. That man? So respectful and so wanting to honour Dad’s memory, he showed up every single morning for prayers. Not being Jewish didn’t stop him for a moment. On that first weekday morning, the spirit of our minyan may have been stronger than the letter of the law………but I wouldn’t trade that sincerity for anything, and I know Dad would value it all the more.
And so it begins, this finding of our unique and precious and nuanced experience within our ancient tradition.