Borough Park, NY – The Jewish custom of shiva, the seven days of intense mourning, often has its spirited aspects.
Despite the prevailing sorrow, visitors might gather around platters of food in a bereaved family’s home and celebrate a long life, or remember foibles with affectionate laughter.
But not after the death of a child, particularly one who died in such chilling fashion as Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who was kidnapped and killed this week.
Throughout the morning and afternoon on Friday, a stream of visitors entered the Kletzky family’s brick apartment building on 15th Avenue in Borough Park. Almost all were somber, as if on a mission they did not relish.
Shoeless and sitting on a low chair, Leiby’s father, Nachman, received the visitors alone in a narrow dining room while his wife, Itta, and their four daughters clustered in a bedroom off the kitchen.
“They’re trying to cope,” said Jonathan Schwartz, 42, a close friend. “They keep on saying that God gave them the privilege to raise this child for nine years.”
Outside the building, neighbors had posted a sign that said: “Please be sensitive to the family. DO NOT share rumors, stories and information you have heard – at all!!” Leiby was suffocated and his body was dismembered, but people close to the Kletzkys say they have tried to spare the family the details.
Shiva, prescribed for the death of a parent, child, sibling or spouse. Close relatives do not work, cook or run errands. They spurn shoes, refrain from showers and shaves, do not wear fresh clothes and sit in low chairs. Mirrors are covered, and a candle burns round the clock.
Shiva harks back to the Bible’s tale of the seven days that Joseph mourned his father, the patriarch Jacob.
But shiva can be a surprisingly busy time. Synagogues dispatch volunteers three times a day to set up minyans, quorums of 10 for prayer, and often send along a Torah, said Menashe Silber, a Hasidic community organizer.
Bereavement organizations like Chesed Shel Emes provide such necessities as the low chairs and prayer books, according to Rabbi Mayer Berger, a director of Chesed.