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Wednesday, 14 March 2012


We went to a funeral yesterday. As a day out they don't score highly on the jolly meter.

 The day reflected the sombre event. Grey skies, a chill in the air: when the sun did peek through it was watery, almost tearful.

Death is not something that pays a lot to ponder on. It's the dying that haunts. Death is a fact, dying a process. How you experience that process is  unknowable. When you see someone in the process of dying you can't help thinking "What is it like? Are you coping? Are you now beyond us the living?"

A friend of ours was buried yesterday. She was Jewish. If you've never before attended a Jewish burial it can come as quite a shock.

We stood in a large cavernous building unadorned, only a few tablets of Hebrew text on the walls. The Rabbi, a rotund man with a small black beard and a large black hat stood behind a temporary dais with the coffin draped in a large piece of grey cloth on a motorised trolley in front.

He welcomed us and led us through the service, alternating between Hebrew and Stamford Hill English. Three friends and the deceased's nephew paid tributes. It must be hard to get to the essence of your knowledge of someone in words which are sincere, truthful and regretful at the loss.

At the end of the service two large doors at the end of the building opened, and another rabbi engaged the electric engine and the trolley trundled forward, we following behind.

By now the sun had pulled aside the mist and the polished marble of the headstones sparkled as we passed rows and rows of sleepers awaiting the day of judgement.

Natalie, our friend, was to be laid next to her mother who had died 12 years before. The grave was crudely cut and a large pile of excavated London clay sat by the grave. Once the Rabbi had said a few words and shovelled the first spade load of earth into the grave the rest of the mourners took turns in shovelling in the earth.
And that was it. It was, to a non Jew, extremely business like, no mawkishness, no sentimentality. For Jews there's more to life than death. It's the living that gives life its meaning. Dying and death is an inevitable summation.
We went back for tea and cakes and reminiscences. Pictures of Natalie passed around and people commented. Those who had been to see her in hospital no doubt compared and contrasted. Happy to hold the memory of a lovely, lively, humorous woman rather than the image of a frail, dying elderly person.

 She'd have appreciated the following I'm sure:

Sadie is just getting over Moishe’s death, when she tries to telephone an ad into the Jewish Chronicle.

“Yes ma’am, what would you like to put in the notice?” the salesperson asks.

“Moishe’s dead. Yes, that’s it. Moishe’s dead,” says Sadie.

“Ok,” says the salesperson on the phone, “But you do realize that this ad is five words minimum?”

“Oh!” said Sadie, and after a few moments thought she says, “Ok then, can you please put: Moishe’s dead, Volvo for sale.”



Anonymous said...

A moving piece.

If jokes are not disrespectful here....

Isaac is on his death bed with beloved wife Esther sitting with him.

He says: “Esther, when I was twenty and I failed my driving test, you were by my side…”

Esther: “Yes, my love…”

Isaac: “And ten years later, when our house burned down, you were there… by my side…”

Esther: “Yes, my love…”

Isaac: “And then when our shop went bust, you were still there, by my side…”

Esther: “Yes my love…”

Isaac: “And when I slipped over and broke my leg last year, you were there, by my side…”

Esther: “Yes, my love…”

Isaac: “And now here I am…on my deathbed…and you’re still here, by my side”

Esther “Yes, my love…”

Isaac: “Esther you are a jinx".

Steve said...

The lack of sentiment is oddly more moving for its absence.

Anonymous said...

So sorry for the loss of your friend :( Never attended a jewish service. I don't think I'd like the dirt thing.