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"Chessed" for a Bagel

By Batya Medad
11/18/2007, 12:00 AM

My mother, may she live and be well till 120, is experienced in sitting shiva, the week-long Jewish mourning.  Not too many family minhagim, customs have been passed along in our family, but there's one I'm familiar with.  During shiva, "we don't serve."

One of the aspects of mourning is not to have to deal with the mundane. People who come to pay condolence calls should help, bring food and serve the mourner, not expect to be fed.  The Eidot Mizrach, North African Jews have the custom of having fruit and cake out for the visitors to make a bracha, a blessing on before eating, so blessing will be heard in the house of the mourner. This is simple fare, generally arranged by non-mourning family members and neighbors. 

It's customary that family and friends of the mourners arrange their food needs and more.  Here in Shiloh, when an entire family is in mourning, neighbors take turns helping in the homes, answering the phones, preparing and serving food to the mourners and doing laundry if there are young children.

That's why I was so shocked when I heard two similar stories which happened in Jewish communities in the states.  One friend went back when his last surviving parent was dying.  He stayed for the shiva, in his parents' home where he had grown up.  The first morning after the funeral, a minyon of men from the neighborhood arrived and dovened.  He felt comforted until someone asked:

"Where's the herring?"

"The herring?"

"Yes, you can't expect a mourning minyon without providing a breakfast.  You know.  Herring, bagels, cream cheese, lox.  If you don't promise food, we won't be back."

That wasn't anything he had ever heard of in his Israeli community.  But not knowing what else to do, he got the number of a caterer and ordered breakfasts until the shiva was over.  He was in no state of mind to argue, and he no longer knew enough people there to try to organize another minyon.

I thought that was a shocker, but then another friend told me that she had called her cousin who was sitting shiva for a parent, since there was no way she could travel to the states.  Her cousin said that she couldn't talk.  She was much too busy.  My friend asked her if there were lots of visitors.

"No, I have to cook.  The Lebovitch minyon that comes to doven with my brother demands  a proper meat dinner every night.  There aren't many frum Jews here, and that's the only way to have a minyon.  So I'm busy cooking.  If we don't serve them, they won't come."

These are neither urban legends nor rumours.  I'm certain that there are Jewish communities which care for their mourners without asking anything in return, including daily minyanim for prayers, but unfortunately not every place is as blessed.