My grandfather just passed away. How can I dip into Judaism and the Jewish community for support? I have Jewish friends and family, but my family isn’t hosting a shiva, and I’m not sure where to start.
Let me first extend words of comfort to you on the death of your grandfather. The turning of generations is both painful and poignant. In your seeking of a path and way of Jewish connection at this time, the impetus and inspiration to do so is a gift from your grandfather, part of his legacy to you.
There is layered meaning in your use of the word “dip,” suggesting both hesitation and desire. The place to start is similarly two-fold, personal and collective. In the absence of a formal family shiva, you might still go to a Jewish bookstore and get a shiva candle. Make a special place for the candle to burn, reflecting the light of your grandfather’s soul. Gather some things that were special to him, that tell of your relationship, the sacred stuff of memory. Beyond shiva, there are stages in the way of Jewish mourning that help us go forward. Encountering successive moments of transition in the mourning process, we learn to integrate the presence of a loved one into our lives in a new key. The 30th day after the funeral is called the Sh’loshim, which means 30. It is a custom for people to gather then, affording the mourner an opportunity to share words about the one remembered and say Kaddish. You could invite friends and family to gather with you on the Sh’loshim to share stories of your grandfather, share song and food, and raise a glass to say l’chayim (to life).
A time for every purpose, this can be a time of renewal for you, engaging with new purpose in Jewish learning, learning a skill or craft you have long put off, appreciating in a new way the shortness of life in all of its beauty. Honoring your grandfather through acts of tzedakah and chesed (kindness) and other ways of bringing healing to the brokenness of the world, you also bring healing to the brokenness in your own heart. Mourning brings a unique awareness of our bond with others and the world around us.
However personal the depth of grief, we are not meant to mourn alone. We are meant to be held in communal embrace, our tears gathered in the living well of community. Seeking solace and a place to say Kaddish is often an impetus for finding one’s way to a synagogue. While as a grandchild you are not obligated to say Kaddish, it can be very meaningful if you wish to say it, especially if no one else is saying it for your grandfather. As Kaddish does not mention death, becoming part of a synagogue community is most of all about life. We need each other. As you seek to “dip into Judaism and the Jewish community,” this is a good time to find the right community for you by visiting services and speaking with rabbis and members. In the way of your seeking, may you find your place and be comforted, and may your grandfather’s memory be a blessing.
Shiva.com is also a good resource for mourners, their friends and their families.