Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Learned something new today

I went to a funeral today--the elderly grandmother of a close friend of mine died Saturday, and being Jewish the service was held this morning, as soon as possible.

Being brought up as an Irish Catholic I know a lot about Christian funerals, and just the sight of a hearse makes me think about tables of food and china teapots and cups and the smell of incense. But I don't know very much about Jewish funerals services. In fact, although I've worked for a jewish organization in town, I've never been to a synagogue.

Why does it matter? Well, when you grow up Catholic like I did, you learn that there some unwritten rules of behaviour that must be followed. Like---God would strike me dead if I ever showed up for church without a skirt and pantyhose. Bare legs were a sin, and pants were practically a mark of prostitution. Logically I knew it was crap, but deep in my heart I still feel nervous about it to this day.

So the question is, what to wear? Do Jewish women go through this guilt and stress over what to wear? Did I need a hat? I hear hats are important, but I only have a baseball cap....shit. Did I have to wear black?


In the end, I wore my black jersey maternity wrap dress, no pantyhose, and black heels. Minimal makeup, no hat. Hoped the jewish god doesn't strike dead the women who show up dressed "wrong".

Turns out it was a reform synagogue and I was one of the best dressed and most formally dressed women there. No Hats! Thanks God! Total relief.....

That dealt with I paid attention to the service and learned a bit of history. It turns out that Ema, as she was known, was truly amazing. She was 94 when she died, but as a young woman she was one of the original Zionists who built a Kibbutz' in Israel. She snuck across the border of British Palestine in the 1930's, and the head of the kibbutz gave her a job right away; she was handed a gun and sent off to guard the orchards against terrorists. All five feet of her plus a gun against the British army, the Arabs, and the heat of the desert....wild. Years later her husband was arrested for being a member of Ergun, (he was actually a member of Hagganah), and held by the British until he died in prison a few years later. A widow with two kids, she moved in the fifties to Canada and worked in the Montreal fur district, sewing piecework to support her family, and put them through school. She spent years working for their benefit only.

And she did it. Her entire family is successful and happy and educated. At the age of 94 she played the mandolin, she loved music and art and food and friends and family. She never wasted a second worrying about past sadness. She lived with joy. I don't know what the Yiddish word is for this, but I would definitely have called her a Great Old Broad.

I learned today that if I have to die someday, I want to die like that, after a long amazing life like that. I don't want to worry about pantyhose and hats and stupid stuff, I just want to be known as a Great Old Broad.

I'm about to turn 40. Can you tell?


  1. and that my dear is called a Mitzvah that she gave you today :)
    In Yiddish it is a gift
    - A lutheran - rooth

  2. A mitzvah is a commandment, but commonly used for "good deed." Anyway, she does sound like an extraordinary woman and may her memory be for a blessing.

    How to dress in a synagogue....My background makes me cringe at much of what I see so I just can't go there.

  3. I've been to all kinds of Catholic, Orthodox & Protestant denomination weddings & funerals, but I've never been to a synagogue either. I do find Jewish customs & rituals fascinating the more I learn about them. I think it's always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to dress. ; )

    I've always said that if I have to be a little old lady, I want to be THAT kind of little old lady. : ) It beats the alternative...

  4. What an amazing life. I want to be a great old broad too. I always wonder if I could show that type of bravery if I were in that kind of situation. We never really know who we are until we are tested.

    As for the pantyhose, I think Jackie O took care of that for us all along with sleeves but yes, tis always better to overdress than under.

  5. Lovely. Sounds like Ema would be happy you came.

  6. Oh. No. I spent many Sundays at my Catholic church with no hose. Shit. Wish someone would have told me that bit of info sooner.

    Yup. Ending life as a great old broad definitely beats living one as a depressed old one. I'll have to keep that in mind.

  7. Ema is hebrew for mother... which I would never know if not for the spontaneous naming of my mother as "ema" by my daughter. I googled it one day... I suppose, much to my joy and tears, that our heritage has somehow escaped in more than curly hair, large noses, and a thing for books and education.

    Technical or no, a mitzvah is a blessing. I dont practice, nor have I ever, any religion (as the child of a catholic, somewhat ironically, my mother, and a jew, my short, full of enterprise and ambition, father), but I know a blessing when I see one. Ema was a blessing, and your new baby, and your ... ability to see beyond your own life, so very often; that, it is a mitzvah.

    You are one of my favorite blogs, for that simple fact. Seeing beyond oneself. A challenge for the world.