For those wondering how to respectfully mourn Mr. Nimoy in his own traditions, rather than using the Christian iconography that is so prevalent in our culture, and yet so incredibly inappropriate, this is how.
Jewish families “sit shiva” in respect for the dead for a period of seven days following a death. This is a time of mourning for the family, where they are visiting in their home by the community. It may be solemn, it may be a gathering of friends more akin to a wake at times, it may be wistful and nostalgic. This depends entirely on the family and on their friends.
My grandfather’s shiva was mostly calm and kind, with his friends telling stories of his youth and adulthood, many of which I had never heard before. Sitting shiva can be amazingly cathartic, as a way of passing through one stage of life into another with the support of your community and family around you.
Jewish language around death is also very different. We do not have a sense of heaven and hell in the same way as Christianity maintains. Most Jewish traditions accept a vague and nebulous afterlife of some form, that is unknowable until we arrive. There is no concept of “being saved.”
Close family members (single-step blood relations and spouses) will say the mourner’s prayer (kaddish) daily for the first eleven months following a death, and then once a year on the anniversary of the death (yartzheit) ever after. The prayer must be said with a minyan, a quorum of ten adults, which is one of the other functions of sitting shiva — community members make an effort to be present in the shiva house for that first week to make up the quorum for saying kaddish. Following that, those who are saying kaddish will attend a synagogue service, usually in the early morning, to say kaddish with a minyan.
Here is the kaddish prayer. Note that the language is not one of grief or mourning.
This seems primarily for family/friends— what’s appropriate for strangers? Especially for those who are of different cultural backgrounds?
If you want to do something tangible, the usual gesture is a donation to a charity supported by the deceased, in honour of the deceased, in increments of $18. (18, 36, etc.) Families will often release the names of a charity in the funeral announcement. Charity (tzedakah) is one of the three requirements in Judaism for righteousness. The number refers to the way that Hebrew numbers are written - in letters, each having an assigned value. The word for life, ‘chai’ has a numeric value of 18, and monetary gifts are usually given in multiples of chai. (“How much did they give you for your bat mitzvah?” “Sweet! Five-chai.”)
Members of the family’s community, friends or not, have an obligation to make sure they can make a minyan at the shiva house.
For fans, be conscious of Mr. Nimoy’s beliefs. Instead of fan art showing flowers, since we don’t do that, have Kirk leaving a pebble at Spock’s grave. Draw the crew sitting shiva. Use lines from the Kaddish, the Shmah or the Yiskor prayer for gif sets rather than Christian poetry or hymns.
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Leonard Nimoy has died at 83. This was his final tweet. Live long and prosper.
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Good night, Mr. Spock.