30 Days Since You Died

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In Jewish practice, on the thirtieth day after a person dies, the mourners observe sheloshim — a lessening in severity of the mourning practices. It’s kind of weird how we have different prescribed levels for

Tonight and today is the sheloshim for Shula Swerdlov, a 3-year-old girl who was killed in a horrific hit-and-run in Jerusalem. The tragedy was immense. Not only because of the nature of the accident — the driver of the school bus, reportedly a felon with 31 previous traffic accidents, ran her over in view of her 8-year-old brother, then immediately drove away — but also that Shula’s parents are Chabad emissaries, and constantly give up the beds in their relatively small apartment for thousands of guests on their way through Israel. Some were friends, or cousins, or just people they happen to meet. When my wife and I moved to Israel for yeshiva, we camped out nights in the Swerdlovs’ office, checking our email each night, updating my blog and writing a novel because they didn’t think twice about giving sketchy people like us a key to their place of business.

You can check out the comments section to see how many people were reeling from her death. But what you should really check out is the community’s response:

* A massive toy drive, collecting Hanukkah toys for disadvantaged children — in spite of the idea that most Chabadniks don’t give gifts for Hanukkah. Check out the link for phone numbers, drop-off points, and other ways you can contribute.

* There’s a custom that, when someone dies, we start writing a Torah in their memory. I’m not sure why exactly — I’ve heard that it’s a reference to when Moses wrote the Torah at the end of his life, or for the everlastingness of the Torah itself, how it’s called a “Tree of Life” and all that. A Torah was started in Shula’s memory, and you can help sponsor the writing by buying a letter in the Torah — either a letter of your name, or a letter of a name of someone you want to honor.

* The song “Since You Died,” by the Dismemberment Plan, has been in my head all day. Like few others, singer Travis Morrison conveys the intimacy and the distance — and the un-understandingness of it all — that comes with thinking about a dead person.

shula's torah

Posted on November 18, 2009

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