Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Letter in Jewish Press

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Jewish Press on August 29, 2007 (link):

Rude Shiva Intrusion

I wish to call attention to a phenomenon I suspect is widespread in our community and is causing it undue embarrassment. Last week my wife and father-in-law were sitting shiva for my mother-in-law, a”h. As is customary, the house door was open.

At one point, when I was not in the house, a complete stranger walked in and asked, “Is this the house where they’re sitting shiva?” When my wife answered in the affirmative, he deposited two aluminum pans with tzedaka signs, one of them in Yiddish, and walked out. He neither asked permission nor expressed any sympathy for my wife and her father.

Hardly an hour after shiva was concluded, the same man showed up and demanded the tzedaka money. When told by my wife that she was mailing a check for the proceeds, the man became indignant and demanded the aluminum pan. When my wife informed him that the pan had been discarded, he left in a huff, again without expressing any condolences or thanking my wife for keeping the pan out during shiva.

This was hardly the first time someone ostensibly Orthodox and wearing the haredi “uniform” has exhibited rude and inconsiderate behavior, but given the circumstances it was one of the most egregious.

What makes these people think that a shiva house is public property simply because the door is open as per custom (a custom that will be discarded if this kind of behavior is allowed to continue), and that they can barge in and leave items without as much as a by-your-leave?

And if he expected the aluminum pan to be returned, shouldn’t he have said so when he left it there? Had I been in the house, I would have refused the pan with the Yiddish sign, since my guests for the most part do not read Yiddish and deserve to be spared the impertinence of being asked for money in a language they do not understand.

I also wonder how this stranger knew that we were sitting shiva and when it would be over. The neighborhood was not plastered with signs as is the custom in parts of Israel, nor was a notice published in any newspaper.

One of the organizations for which the stranger was collecting is doing very good work in the community and we had donated to it in the past, but no more. Shiva is a time for a family to grieve and be comforted by relatives and friends, not to be harassed by professional mendicants. If we are to keep our young people in the fold, let alone be a “light to the nations,” the least we can expect of one another is common decency.

Zev Stern
Brooklyn, NY


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