Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Comfort of Sameness and Jewish Tradition

I couldn't settle down yesterday. I couldn't settle down because I was thinking about what was going on in a town just forty miles to the north of where I sat. In that town, there was a funeral. The funeral of Noah Pozner, one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

I knew that, at about the same time, there was another funeral too. And there are more today, and there will be countless others in the days ahead. But it was Noah's that was on my mind as I went about my business yesterday. It was Noah's that I couldn't get out of my mind. Not because he is more important than all the rest; of course he isn't. But because Noah is Jewish, and so am I.

So while I couldn't be quite sure what the other funerals would look like, what the order of the services would be, for Noah's, I knew. I knew because Jewish funerals are generally all the same. And there is a solace in that sameness. In a format that has changed little in over four thousand years. A format designed to offer direction in this moment of intense crisis and confusion.

I knew that his funeral was on Monday because Jewish law commands that the funeral be held as soon as possible after death. I knew that he had not been left alone for even a second from the time of his death until the time he was buried; that someone had been watching over him since Friday afternoon.

I knew that there would be a tiny closed casket at the front of the room. A simple wood box adorned with a Star of David. I knew that before the funeral his family would gather in a room and each would tear a piece of their clothing, and I knew what that tearing would sound like. I knew that they would sit in the front row and prop each other up as eulogies were given. I knew that before the funeral's end someone would recite "E-l Malei Rachamim," a haunting prayer asking God to grant eternal resting to the soul.

I knew that at the burial Noah's family would take turns shoveling the dirt onto his casket themselves, and I knew that when the burial was over the community would form two lines leading away from the grave for the family to walk through; a symbol of solidarity. I knew they would go straight home to start sitting shiva, and I knew that family and friends would be waiting for them when they arrived. I knew that those same family and friends and even some strangers would pay visits over the next days, attempting to relieve the burden of the Pozners' crushing loneliness.

I don't presume to know what it is like to lose a child in such a violent and shattering way. But it is my greatest hope that these ancient traditions offered a bit of comfort as Noah's family struggles to find light in the darkness.

I couldn't get Noah out of my mind yesterday. And I am still thinking about him today.

Hamakom yenachem etchem b'toch she'ar avelai Tziyon Vi'yerushalayim.

May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.*


*A hebrew prayer that visitors to a shiva house offer to the mourners

25 comments:

  1. As awful as the situation is, I love how connected in time this post feels -- connected with all of the souls lost and not yet born. Lovely.

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  2. Beautiful post Samantha. I feel like I've been crying non-stop, at each new story that pops up on yahoo. Such a wonderful and sensitive tribute you've written.

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  3. beautifully written, and so seeped in ritual, it's somewhat comforting, but i still can't stand it.

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  4. I hope you are right and that the family found comfort in the rituals. Beautiful post.

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  5. I really love the way this post reads. It's focus is a perfect tribute to the victims of this senseless tragedy. Minus the politics and minus the debates - lovely.

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  6. This is a gorgeous post, Samantha. I love how you bring together tradition, even a sad one, with something that has happened to a stranger.

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    1. Those three words have been running through my head on a constant loop since Friday.

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  8. I really hope these rituals gave them comfort too. This whole thing is so unimaginably heartbreaking.

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  9. I've never been to a Jewish funeral. About half an hour before I read your post, I read a newspaper account of Noah's funeral and I didn't get one tenth of the information you so lovingly give here. It mentioned the Star of David on the plain casket, but that's it. Very well done. This post has the tone of a writer trying to explain something to herself, and it really works.

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  10. Absolutely lovely. Thank you for writing about Noah's funeral. Did you read how his cousin wrote a note for Noah and an airline company (I forget which one) brought it from Washington State to Connecticut in time for the funeral? It was a sweet story.

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  11. I have never been to a Jewish funeral either, but now I feel like I have (in a sense.) Faith traditions and rituals bring amazing comfort and I echo your hope that the Pozners felt just that.

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  12. It really is horrible. Like you, I can't get it all out of my mind.

    I hope those innocent and beautiful children are at peace.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  13. What a beautiful piece. I did not know about the Jewish traditions for funerals other than burial as soon as possible after death. I haven't been able to shake thoughts of the recent events either and thinking about the funerals...the families...it's just unfathomable. Thank you for this moving post. I hope the families and the community of Newtown can find peace and healing through their traditions and beliefs.

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  14. This was indeed comforting. Bless you.

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  15. I like the idea of someone sitting with the body until he or she is buried. Especially if it's a child. Thanks for relating this, so all of us know, too.

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  16. This line really struck me as something I believe I would find comfort in: "I knew that he had not been left alone for even a second from the time of his death until the time he was buried; that someone had been watching over him since Friday afternoon."

    Thank you for sharing these traditions - anything that helps us know these children and their backgrounds better is an honour to them.

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  17. This might be both the most soothing and the most heartbreaking post I've read about these events. Thank you.

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  18. I didn't know what Jewish funerals were like today. Thank you for letting us know so. This was a beautiful post.

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  19. There is something comforting in this, whether it's God or tradition or the comfort of something that is known in a world so full of unknown. It breaks my heart to think of all of this in such a young boy and his family... And yet I know he is at peace. Thank you for sharing this with us all.

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  20. Great piece. Thankfully I haven't been to many funerals and I've never been to a Jewish one. I appreciate this glimpse into the culture. I can see how the traditions would be of some comfort.

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  21. What a beautiful tradition of comfort shared in a beautiful post. Ellen

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  22. Predictability amid chaos is comfort especially with a life lost so tragically.

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