My friend, Barry, explained to me how the Catholic wake works: the family sits facing the open casket for a couple of days. In the beginning, everyone is all reverent being in the presence of the deceased. By the end, the family is talking about the Yankees while the body is still there. After the funeral, the family finds it easier to return to their normal life. It’s a system that seems to work.
Jews have their own system, which is done the opposite way. It is called "sitting shiva." After a death, the burial occurs as fast as possible. Then there are seven days of sitting shiva. The family sits in the house and is visited by family, friends, and neighbors. It is a bit of an odd system, since you end up retelling the story of "what happened" dozens of times, as new people show up. But since it is a Jewish event, there is always a lot of food involved. In fact, you are supposed to bring food for the family so they don’t have to cook. In reality, it doesn’t exactly work out this way. You are put in the position of being a host to large groups of people at the exact point when you are most exhausted from the funeral. At least Jews do thing differently.
It is considered a "mitzvah" (a good deed) to "pay a shiva call" so many neighbors come, even those that aren’t close to the family. A few times, my mother and I didn’t know the names of the people. Sophia came up with a plan where we would look over at her, signaling that it was time for action. Sophia then would stand up and say:
"Hello, I’m Sophia. Thanks so much for coming. What’s your name?"
As crazy a system as this is, it is nice to meet all of my father’s friends and co-workers. We heard some funny stories about my father. My uncle Edward had the best story, which is about how my father became a physical therapist.
It seems that during the Korean War, my father was assigned to be an MP (Military Policeman). This is hard to believe because my father was a scrawny Jewish guy with Woody Allen glasses. He was assigned to transport North Korean prisoners. He was issued a large rifle and told to do three things if there was any trouble:
1) Yell, "Stop."
2) Yell, "Halt, or I’ll shoot."
One day, my father was transporting a North Korean prisoner, when the prisoner broke free and began to escape. My father followed the rules:
1) He yelled, "Stop," but the prisoner kept on running.
2) He yelled, "Halt, or I’ll shoot," but the prisoner didn’t listen.
3) My father lifted up the heavy gun, pulled the trigger, and the gun fell on the floor, shooting into the air. My father got scared and ran the other way.
Later, that day, my father was brought into the captain’s office. My father was told that he was going to be court martialed. The captain took one look at my father and realized that he was the worst possible choice for being a military policeman.
The captain spoke to my father:
"I made you an MP. Let’s see if I can do better the second time around. I’m going to send you to a military hospital in Hawaii to learn to be a physical therapist."
At that point my father would have agreed to anything. This is how he became a physcial therapist, a job he had for 50 years.