Jacob, age 12, Comforts the Bereaved

By   Shlomo Maital


   When a close relative dies, there is a wise, tried and tested Jewish ritual of mourning known as shiva, from the Hebrew word “shiv’ah” which means the number 7.

       For 7 days, the mourners sit at home, on low benches, and receive visits of comfort from friends and family. They reminisce about the departed, prepare no food (food is brought to them) and grieve.   They then “rise” from the shiva and resume their lives, with some other limitations during the “shloshim” (the next 30 days).   In synagogue, mourners say the kaddish prayer, for 11 months, which has not a single word about death but simply praises God and his creation and greatness.

     This mourning ritual has proven itself over the ages to comfort and strengthen. I experienced it myself, after the deaths of my mother and father.

   I recently was privileged to meet Jacob, age 12. Jacob is the son of relatives. He will be bar mitzvah soon, at age 13. Like many other young men about to celebrate their bar mitzvah (the equivalent of confirmation), Jacob is doing a public service project.   But his is very special – his idea. He told me about it.

     Jacob, together with his mother and stepfather, visits the homes of mourners and pays “shiva calls”. Some think exposing children to death is wrong. I disagree. This is not exposure to death, but to comforting the grieving. Jacob brings his youth, his hope, and the future, to the home of the bereaved. I know that his presence brings hope and comfort to the bereaved.

     I believe Jacob’s wonderful idea deserves scale-up – spreading widely. The idea of comforting those who have lost loved ones is brilliant – and who can comfort better than a sensitive caring young man or woman (this is for girls too, of course), who brings with him or her the perpetual idea of continuity of life, of hope, of renewal and of meaning.  

       Jacob – well done!