Attending a funeral or not?

Two weeks ago, our community lost one of it’s leaders. Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield who had been the leader of P’nai Or of Oregon passed away while scuba diving with his family in Mexico. He was just 65 years old. I had only really been around him twice including one time at the high holidays when we attended his synagogue. However, we have close friends who are lay leaders at his synagogue and I knew that his death would be very difficult for them.  The morning of his funeral I thought about attending.   I decided against it because I surmised  that I really didn’t know him. Later that afternoon, I was upset that I hadn’t decided to attend. I heard from my friend that almost 1,000 people were there.

It made me start thinking about funerals. I remembered when my father died that he also had a synagogue full of people. I knew some of them but many I didn’t know.  Had my father known all of those people personally or professionally? Were some just coming out of respect to our family. So why would someone attend a funeral of someone they don’t know well?

Recently, I saw a movie and the main character a Catholic Priest gave a sermon about loss. He discussed the idea of community suffering when someone known to many people dies. He suggested that when John F. Kennedy was assassinated the entire country grieved and our country came together in solidarity around our grief. He also said that sometimes as individuals we have private losses, perhaps a divorce, death or something else that causes us to suffer more individually and we may have to do it in a more silent way. I discovered after my father died that the Jewish way in death and mourning was tremendously helpful. There was a structure and a process to move through the emotions lof grief and there was a wonderful opportunity for me as the mourner to be held by the community while I moved through this process. This was a new discovery for me and I remember talking about it frequently with both Jews and non Jews.  I do not believe it is replicated in the same way with my non Jewish friends.   I realize now after the fact that it would have been fine to attend a funeral for someone I didn’t know very well even if it was just out of respect for my friends or perhaps as a way to show solidarity with his family.

881& 882) Sent two condolence cards to community members who had lost a family member.

883) Donated in honor of Rabbi Aryeh.

884) Donated to the  Mitzvah Heros Fund regarding urgent needs in Israel.

885) Prepared and delivered a meal for a friend who has a new baby.

886) Volunteered for a local organization that helps to clothe low income school children in our area. It is run by our local school district and each school in the district is asked to come and volunteer once a year. We served 75 families in one day.  It was great to see such an important need as the gift of clothing being met in such a dignified way.

887)  Volunteered in my son’s classroom.

888) Met a woman needing some childcare assistance. Gave her information that I thought could assist her.

I was preparing to give a speech last week to begin to share my 1000 mitzvah journey. It was all consuming and I didn’t have much time to write on my blog. I did however receive many, many mitvzahs. A friend came to listen to  my speech to give me some feedback. A couple other Toastmasters  made special arrangments to hear me at a meeting so they could also give me feedback. My daughter had big ideas of a sewing project for a recent school unit on the Revolutionary War. Once we had purchased the fabric, I suddenly realized we didn’t even know where to begin. A neighbor with extensive sewing experience spent the better part of the day helping my daughter with the sewing project. I kept thinking about Hilary Clinton’s famous line that it takes a village.  She is so right and I am glad my village has so many wonderful and giving people in it.

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