Shiva Sisters: Jewish ritual without religion

The way this story from the Los Angeles Times opens, it gives the impression that the Shiva Sisters are like the Jewish mourning version of Batman & Robin.

They deal with death -- specifically, Jewish mourning -- with an only-in-L.A. panache. They arrange catering, equipment rentals and general assistance for after-funeral gatherings, including valet parking, video production, personal shopping and -- there is no better way to say it -- Jewish mothering.

"They kind of just swoop in and mother you," said Michael Berman, Lee Weinstein's partner of 30 years, who hired the Shiva Sisters on the advice of Rabbi Howard. "They're not just planning a party and an event, but they're compassionate and understanding at a time when people are grieving."

It's an interesting story from religion reporter Mitchell Landsberg, who does a nice job explaining what shiva means in Jewish tradition and in the Hebrew language.

The story also explains how the Shiva Sisters, Danna Black and Allison Moldo, whom I assume are Jewish but the story leaving ambiguous, help with Jewish rituals after the funeral. That is when they take over, primarily in organizing and overseeing a post-funeral catered affair. They don't plan funerals; they don't sit shiva. They deal with the "meal of consolation."

Their name aside, the Shiva Sisters don't usually have much to do with shiva, at least not in any traditional sense. Their clients tend to be people who are Jewish by birth, maybe by upbringing, but not usually by practice.

In L.A., Landsberg reports, that means Pizzaria Mozza more often than kugel.

The story does a good job generally, but it never really explains why "People who haven't set foot in a synagogue in years want a Jewish funeral, with a rabbi presiding, and some kind of Jewish gathering afterward" when a loved one dies.

I don't think there is a lot of mystery there. Being Jewish means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. (Obviously.) But it is an interesting issue, something that could have been further explored or at least explained to the reader in brief sentence or even appositional phrase.

I also was curious about how the gatherings organized by the Shiva Sisters would compare to similar gatherings organized for religious Jews. Landsberg notes that the rabbi touched on Jewish themes but did not say a prayer, not even the Kaddish prayer. That gives some perspective, but I would have liked a little more cross-denominational comparison.

IMAGE: The Shiva Sisters are not a part of Shiva Connect, an online service for mourning and sending condolences

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