Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Agonizing Goodbye - Done Beautifully

This morning Josh called me at 6:30 am from synagogue to say that a lovely man in the community had died. Even Kotel was a bubbly, sweet 51 year old who had two jobs that spoke worlds about him. He was in charge of guarding the nursery school classes, and was always chipper and sweet to all of the kids and their parents. In addition, he was a professional photographer and took beautiful pictures of all of our simchas. No matter what he was doing, he was making people smile. He left a lovely wife who works in one of the nursery school classes and an 11 year old son. They are devastated, of course, as are so many members of our community.

What struck me tonight was the way that a funeral is held here in Israel. I'm always amazed by how much events here reflect the true values of our society and religion. I've been to three or four funerals here already, unfortunately, and I've been surprised each time by a number of things.

Life in Israel is intense. It's raw and real. It's also incredibly embrassing and compassionate. This strange juxtaposition plays out at weddings and other happy events, and also at funerals. Unlike at funerals that I"ve been to in the States, there is no fluff here. There's no music, no long speeches, no seats in the social hall to sit in - nothing. We congregated outside of the shul and stood, waiting for the body to arrive. There were some seats set up, but most people stood. There were hundreds of people there. The body was then brought in - not in a coffin, but simply wrapped in a tallit. The first time that I saw this, I really did think I was going to pass out from grief. It is unsettling to have so little barrier between the grieving people and the deceased, but it's also so raw and so real. There are very specific ways that a body is cared for and respected after a person dies. One of these ways is that they are wrapped in a tallit and brought in to the funeral as such, on a stretcher. A few people spoke, including our Rabbi and Evan's wife, Ya'ara. And that was it. Then, Evan's friends carried the stretcher through our community for a number of blocks towards the entrance of the yishuv. The entire community walked behind him, escorting him to the car to take him to the cemetery. If you can imagine what that looks like, it's 100s of people walking silently behind the body, escorting him to his burial. It's really unbelievable.

I really see so much of Israel in this practice. There is no fluff - nothing covering the facts and the reality, no matter what it should be. The grief is there before us, just as the simcha is at a wedding. It's incredibly moving and powerful to see an event like this, and to see how the community comes together to physically escort you to your final home.

May Evan's family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And may we only have good news in the future.