As usual, lots going on here in Israel, but, as usual, I have no profound comments that have not been stated by others regarding those events. My family's personal events have been, well, uneventful. We live normal and relatively unremarkable personal lives -- for Israel, that is.
I went to a funeral yesterday. The decedent, who was born in Manchester, England, had been living in Israel for almost 40 years. Her death was somewhat of a surprise, inasmuch as she seemed to be in good health when I saw her for the last time about a month ago at a gathering of Anglos in our community here. She had been complaining Wednesday night of pains. Her son-in-law, who is an emergency room physician at the hospital where my wife works, did not like what he saw and got her admitted to the hospital. She died at about 9 AM yesterday morning, and was buried at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Here in Israel, everyone has a right to be buried in the local town cemetery in whatever burial plot happens to be next on the list. Premium arrangements (e.g., saving a gravesite next to that of one's spouse or other family member) can be made by those willing and able to foot the bill for the same. No such arrangements were made for our friend in this case; her late husband, who has been gone about 12 years, is buried in another grave in a different section of the same town cemetery.
Unlike the practices in America and elsewhere, there was no casket. Her body was borne on a litter, covered in a tallit, and placed into the grave. A board was placed over the body, and the grave was refilled by the funeral attendees.
Following the burial, the family received visitors (my wife and I included) in the departed's old apartment and will continue with sitting shiva there.
In Jewish tradition and culture, death is accepted as G-d's will, and we come to terms with it accordingly. The body is given a ritual washing, and buried as soon as practicable thereafter. One of the greatest acts of kindness is to participate in bringing the deceased to his or her burial; any other act of kindness that is done cannot help but have at least some motive for repayment, but the decedent you escort to burial will never, and can never, repay you for your kindness to him or her. It is a big deal!
Back on Long Island, our Rabbi had a few occasions to round up people for funerals that otherwise would have been sparsely attended (i.e., less than the minyan of ten men), including some where the decedent had little or no connection with the congregation or community. Fortunately, such was not necessary for yesterday's funeral; the deceased had plenty of local and not-so-local friends and family.
In other cultures, death is denied and/or defied. Fixing up the deceased's body for a viewing is a form of denial; it is, at best, a highly reluctant form of acknowledgment that our relationship with the departed will henceforth be different than it had been in the past. The so-called "Viking funerals" where the body is placed in a boat and set afire are a form of derision where death is mocked.
One funeral practice that combines the best aspects of both denial and defiance is the Jazzman's funeral, where the deceased jazz musician is escorted to his or her burial by a band of jazz musicians. Though typically associated with New Orleans, they have been known to occur in England for British jazz musicians, and elsewhere. I had occasions, many years ago, to observe them as a fortuitous passer-by in Harrisburg and in Baltimore. The practice has a certain degree of class and quaintness to it, but it is not in keeping with Jewish funeral and mourning practice and custom.
I hope to receive a proper Jewish burial.