Category Archives: shiva

Liana Barenblat z”l

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

By now you may have heard the news that my beloved mother, Liana Ljuba Epstein Barenblat z”l, has left this life. I am headed to Texas for her funeral and for the first few days of shiva. I aim to return home on Sunday so that I can sit a few days of shiva here, as well.

In the ordinary course of events, it is my responsibility and my great honor to care for y’all in your times of need. I am grateful to be your rabbi and to have this sacred task. My mother’s death brings about a reversal: in coming days and weeks I will need you to take care of me.

The first way that you can take care of me is by joining me for shiva on Monday and Tuesday nights. Stay tuned for information about that — which will probably come to you from Steven Green (our Spiritual Life chair) or from our member Sandy Ryan. Here is an explanation of some of the customs of shiva.

Another way to take care of me is to join me at services in coming months so that I can say mourner’s kaddish in community. Saying kaddish in community enables a mourner (ideally) to feel held, witnessed, and cherished. Here’s a great video about mourner’s kaddish.

And the third way that you can take care of me is by bearing witness to my grief, and welcoming me as a part of our shared community even when I sometimes feel sorrow. Please do ask how I am, and don’t be alarmed if my answer to that question sometimes involves tears!

Please do ask me about my mom. There will be times when I can’t tell stories because the ache is too profound, and times when sharing stories about her will help me celebrate and uplift my memories of her. Remember that grief is not linear, and does not have a simple trajectory.

When I lead prayer, when I want to take y’all to an emotional / spiritual place (awe, wonder, gratitude) I need to truly “go there” too. I can’t just pretend to pray: I have to really feel it. I aspire to be real with you, and real in my prayer. I also aspire to be real with you in my grief.

Being in community means taking care of each other. I know the CBI community to be generous and caring, and I thank you in advance for your generosity and care. I thank you too for letting me be not only a servant of this community, but a member of this community, in this tender time.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Announcing an adult education class this spring

Death, mourning, and transformation

This three-session class, taught by Rabbi Rachel, will explore Jewish ideas, teachings, and rituals around death and mourning. We’ll explore texts both ancient and modern which will offer us different Jewish ideas about death and afterlife, taharah and burial, and kaddish and mourning customs. The class will meet at 10am on Sundays April 3, May 15, and June 5.

Price: $18 for CBI members, $36 for non-members. Register by emailing rabbibarenblat at gmail dot com.

After the week of shiva, what then?

This is a resource for those approaching the end of shiva; I’m putting it online so it will be easy to find & available for anyone who needs it. (Cross-posted from Velveteen Rabbi.)


So you’re approaching the end of shiva. That first week of mourning after the funeral, after the first mourner’s kaddish, after the unthinkable act of shoveling a spade-ful of earth and hearing it thud on unvarnished wood. Shiva means seven, the number of days of this first stage of grieving. One week: the most basic unit of Jewish time. After those seven days, a mourner enters the stage called shloshim, “thirty,” which lasts through the first month after burial. But what does entering into shloshim mean? How does it, might it, have an impact on your life?

In the tangible world, the move from shiva to shloshim can have palpable implications. Traditional Jewish practice places a variety of restrictions on mourners during shiva — for instance: not wearing leather shoes, sitting on the ground or on a low stool (closeness to the earth is a sign of humility and mourning), not going to work, not engaging in physical intimacy. All of these restrictions are lifted during shloshim.

For contemporary liberal Jews who do not consider themselves bound by traditional halakhot (laws / ways-of-walking), the restrictions and their abeyance may or may not have meaning. You may not have given up leather or sex or anointing yourself with perfume or listening to music this week. But the psycho-spiritual shift of moving from shiva to shloshim is still significant. The shift from shiva to shloshim is all about expansion.

During the first week of mourning one’s life may contract to a very small space. Perhaps you haven’t left the shiva house at all. Or even if you’ve gone in and out of your home, you may have felt constricted, your life seemingly shrunken. Once shiva has ended, it is time to start expanding again. Open yourself to seeing more people. Allow yourself to immerse in your work life again. Expand your self-perception: you are not only a mourner, not only someone who grieves, but also someone who lives, works, struggles, and loves.

This may feel impossible. If it does, that’s okay. Just know that our tradition believes that it is good for a mourner to try to open themselves to life again after that first most-intense week of grief. Your sorrow may ebb and flow. You may experience times when you think you’re close to okay again, and times when the floodwaters of emotion threaten to swamp you. Keep breathing. The emotional rollercoaster is normal. You won’t always feel this way, but — as the saying goes — the only way out is through.

If you’ve been burning a shiva candle all week, your candle will naturally flicker and gutter and run out of fuel as the week of shiva ends. (The candle is designed to last for seven days; that’s what makes it a shiva candle.) When the candle extinguishes itself, that may feel like another blow, another loss. Remember that the candle is only a candle: a symbol of your mourning, but not a barometer of your spiritual state or of your loved one’s presence.

You can still talk to your loved one, if there is meaning for you in that practice. You can talk to God. You can pray or meditate or sit in your silent car and wail — however you can best express whatever you’re feeling. You might try writing a letter to your loved one at the end of shiva, telling them where you are and how you are as the first week of active mourning comes to its end. (What you do with the letter is up to you: save it? burn it? shred it and use the paper to mulch a new tree?)

Above all, be kind to yourself. Pay attention to what your heart needs.

This second stage of mourning lasts for one month, the time it takes for the moon to wax and become full and then wane again. This is an organic cycle, a mode of measuring time through observing the ebb and flow of the natural world. Just as the moon grows and shrinks, so our spirits and our hearts experience times of fullness and times of contraction. The end of shloshim is a time to begin looking toward fullness again. We trust that after the moon has disappeared, she will return; we trust that after our lives have been diminished by loss, light and meaning will flow into them again.

If you are moving from shiva into shloshim: I bless you that the transition should be what you need it to be. May this ancient way of thinking about mourning and the passage of time be meaningful for you; may time soothe your grief. One traditional practice is to mark the end of shiva by going for a walk around the block — a symbolic step out of the closeness of your home, into the wide world around you. (See Ending Shiva by Rabbi Peretz Rodman.)

If you are moving out of shloshim, I offer you the same blessing: may this transition be what you most need. For those who feel the need for a ritual to mark that shift, I recommend this Leaving Shloshim Ritual by Rabbi Janet Madden. (Ritualwell has a wide variety of materials relating to mourning and bereavement, so if that ritual isn’t what you need, feel free to browse.)

May the Source of Mercy bring you comfort along with all who mourn.

On shiva

Dear members of the Congregation Beth Israel family,

By now you know that there will be a shiva minyan tomorrow evening (details redacted on the From the Rabbi blog; you have hopefully received them via email). I’m writing to share with you a few thoughts about shiva: what it means, why we do it, and how to do it well.

There are many traditions around sitting shiva, though each shiva experience is unique because of the unique needs of the mourners and the context of their lives. Shiva can be a deeply meaningful way to walk the mourner’s path — a path which is a natural part of life, and a path which each of us will walk eventually.

What is shiva? After a funeral, mourners stay at home — traditionally, for seven full days (“shiva” means seven) — and are fed, nurtured, and cared-for by friends, neighbors, and members of the community. This custom arose at a moment in time when it was presumed that everyone said the prayers of the evening service each night; to ensure that the mourners didn’t need to leave their homes in order to find a minyan with which to pray, we bring the minyan to them.

The first week of mourning gives the mourners time to come to grips with the reality of their loss, and time to grieve. It can be an emotionally and spiritually intense time. It is our job, as the mourners’ community, to respond with love and compassion, to be helpful and generous. The most important thing we can do is to show up.

In our community today, many people choose to observe formal shiva only for a few days, or for a single night. Regardless, the intention is the same: it is a time when our community can come together to take care of those who have experienced a loss.

A shiva call is not a social visit. The mourners are not “hosts;” they do not need to entertain us. Their job is to be present to their experience and their emotions; our job is to accompany them, to bring them food, to listen when they need to talk, and to lovingly share memories of the person who has died.

Thank you for joining us in shiva — an act which helps to constitute our community, again and again.


Reb Rachel