October 25, 2015 Leave a comment
Jazz Band At The Shiva. I was immediately stuck by the melodic phrasing, imagery, and feeling of incongruence in these words. Steve spoke them matter-of-factly and yet with a hint of irony as the two of us stood, watched and listened. Jazz Band At The Shiva always felt as if it should have been the title of a live recording of a Wes Montgomery or Bill Evans quartet at some smokey New York club.
The shiva was for a friend’s mom. I had not known her well. Maybe we shared the same room 2 or 3 times. Most of my feelings about her came from Lori. Lori’s relationship with her mother was complicated to say the least. Just prior to her death she had not been well and to some degree the final moment was a blessing. Yet as any of us who have lost someone close knows there is never a good time for the end. It is always sad. It always hurts. She left behind a husband with whom she had shared a lifetime, two daughters and grandchildren.
Dan and I walked in together to pay our respects. It was good to see Dan who first became a friend in high school. We reconnected in grad school and the reconnected again years later. He had left the place we grew up and which made hanging out defined as we did in the “olden days” –meaning sharing the same physical space not just a virtual one– far too rare. More about Dan another day.
Dan, Lori and I each knew each other well but there was only a modest overlap in the relationships. I had met Lori in high school though we did not become friends until sometime after college and grad school. We hung out as friends often enough that I got to know her sister Julie and Julie’s husband Kevin. Dan better knew Lori’s parents than I did. In all cases mpst of our time together was decades and a lifetime before.
Relationships being what they are when you stay close to where you grew up, Dan and I knew that other friends would be among the roomful of strangers. We were in the public room of the condo association where Lori’s parents lived. As is traditional at Shivas, there were tables of food and people scattered about the room. Some had paid their respects and were congregating in groups based on past friendships and finding the best spots between the food tables and the bar. Others were waiting for the right moment to seek out the family member they knew and then introducing themselves to the ones they did not.
At first for me the jazz band, while a surprise, was just background as I sought out Lori and caught Dan up on the lives of the people he had grown up with but had not seen for years. After Lori came her sister Julie and reintroducing myself to their dad. I joined the contingent of food eaters and small talkers. I congregated near the people I knew best. Over time the jazz band became more prominent in my consciousness. They were good and I should be able to but can’t remember the band’s composition. I believe there was a stand up base, drums, piano and maybe a clarinet.Howver for me the details or even the quality of music has never been important. Jazz Band at the Shiva. The uniqueness of having a jazz band at the Shiva and the phrase itself have stuck with me over the years.
For those that have never been to a Shiva let me provide some context. In my corner of the Jewish world (traditional but not hard core, suburban, modestly well off) a shiva lasts from one day to a week. Its purpose is to help the loved ones grieve but also to begin the process of moving beyond the grief. Family and friends bring to the bereaved their presence, caring, support and love…and tons of food. The food feeds the family so they have one less thing to be concerned with but also the guests.
A Shiva is typically loud from conversations. Some of the din is helping console the bereaved, some to celebrate the life of the dead and some just of people who haven’t had a reason to be together reconnecting and catching up on the lives of people whose lives once intertwined with their own.
Despite the volume of sound, rarely if ever is there music at a shiva. On the topics of whether or not having a jazz band was traditional or appropropriate; my response to both is “who cares”. There are no rules, no laws.This made sense for Lori’s family. Was it unusal, yes. So what? The fact that even a brief conversation on the topic broke out is irrelevant. People should have the right to do what they want especially at difficult moments. No harm to any Jew was occurred due to the making of this music.
Honestly I just find the sounds of the phrase appealing.
Jazz Band at the Shiva. I think it was Wes Montgomery.