Sitting Shiva Away From Home

I got up from shiva yesterday morning for my mother. My mother didn’t die in the community in which she was born; she didn’t die in the community in which I was raised. Instead, she died in the community in which we moved my parents to about 10 years ago, closer to one of my brothers, so that she could be cared for by one of her sons. As a result, I spent the beginning of my shiva period in a hotel. It seems that this is a growing phenomenon, given the mobility of the generations that make up the North American Jewish community today.

As a result, I was forced to go to a local synagogue for services—until I was able to come home and be surrounded and supported by my own community. And while I worried about what I might encounter, this congregation was incredibly welcoming and supportive. They saw me as a newcomer, and they quickly discerned that I was a mourner. As a result, they reached out to me—for the time I was in their community.

But then, on my last day there, as I was exiting the parking lot, I apparently was going in the wrong direction in a small area of the parking lot—not well identified as one way. As I tried to leave the parking area, a car blocked my way. The driver rolled down her window and told me that I was going the wrong way. I responded, “I am sorry, I am a newcomer here” and tried to move to the side so that she could pass. But she would have none of that. Instead, she told me to back up and turn around.

As I thought about what occurred, I realized that the small act of one person had the potential to undermine all of the welcoming that I felt from the synagogue itself. Although I was burdened by my loss, this act will not prevent me from returning to that synagogue or any other. But I have to wonder what would have happened should that incident have occurred with just a newcomer—who was more typical and not embedded in the community as I am. The situation reminded me that while institutions can control the experience a newcomer has within their four walls, once we step outside of those walls—even just into the parking lot—that control no longer exists. Thankfully, this institution made such a positive impression that I would be happy to return under more positive circumstances. I hope that other newcomers share my experience, but be wary of the parking lot.

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