mads knew the holy work of the shadkhin (the matchmaker). We know this because we are together because of her work. We know how to do this because mads showed us. We know how to do this because we learned it with and beside mads. We know how to do this because we don’t just share a friendship or a kinship with mads, but a tradition. It is important to remember that we know how to do this, because it is also true that we don’t know how to do this…and so much of us doesn’t want to know how to do this right now.
When shiva began, R’ David shared that the shoresh—the root of the Hebrew word we use for funeral or eulogy…what Abraham did for Sarah when she died—means to wail.
It is good to speak of mads. It’s good. It is hard to speak of mads right now too. To eulogize…to realize that what we have are the tellable memories & not her. Sometimes we need help. When our own throats are too constricted by grief to sing to our dead, sometimes for any utterance at all, it used to be that the Jewish women of Yiddishland would show up for each other as ritual wailers. These women were revered and feared and loved—a combination that mads truly appreciated. (mads was a student and teacher of all of those things—reverence, fear, love—and a seeker of Jewish women’s ways). These wailers/lamenters were seen as Jewish ritual leaders and also understood as a bit magic. They were the ones you wanted to advocate for you in the court of heaven—you wanted her voice turned towards sky on your behalf.
I shared this tkhine (women’s prayer in Yiddish) on Wednesday about the wailer, set recently by Rabbi Noam Lerman:
You don’t shame a broken heart,
You witness pain from the one who laments,
And when the wailer calls out, you listen closely
A tsubrokhen harts tustu nisht farshemen(4x),
Du zest di payn fun di vos yomern (2x)
Un ven der kloger ruft tustu him derheren
אַ צובּראָכען האַרץ טוסטו נישׁט פֿאַרשעמען ,
דו זעסט די פּײַן פֿון די וואָס יאָמערן(2),
און ווען דער קלאָגער רופֿט טוסטו אים דערהערען
Tekhine Teshuva, Tefila, Tsedukah, Published in 1916 in NYC by the ש’’ס תחינה– רב פנינים Hebrew Publishing Company, page 162. Melody and translation by Noam Lerman
Shiva and the ways that come after are for the living, yes. But there is an important slippage in our tradition between what we do for the living and what we do for the dead. mads knew that the dead and the living need each other right now. So, we do shiva & shloshim together on both sides of the veil. Some of us feel so close to the dead right now…or always…some of us feel distant…always. Right now, we are finding ways to give each other permission to wail (& laugh & sing & remember) and permission to be quiet, to hold silent, to be low to the ground, lost, numb—to let others wail for us. We will take turns. It is a dance. It is a game of tag.
-Maia Brown, 2/2/23 // 11 Shvat 5783