Monday, January 24, 2011

Strange Customs

So many of our practices and customs have become a regular part of our life. We get used to them to the point where we don't realize how odd they can look to an outsider.

That's how it was for me, anyhow. Then Kelly (*not her real name) moved into my area at work. Everyone else in the area are frum yidden, so needless to say, Kelly finds our discussions both confusing and amusing.

Take, for example, the birth of Esther's grandson, and her preparations for the upcoming bris. Leaving aside the entertaining conversation we had with Kelly about the custom of bris milah, Kelly found something else confusing.

"Your daughter had a baby?" she inquired. Esther nodded.
"So," Kelly continued, "why didn't you bring in some booze and say that word- what's that word that the guys always say when someone has a baby?"
"Lechaim?" I offered.
"Yeah, why don't you bring in booze and say lehayim?"

Esther didn't have much of an explanation, and so the matter was put to rest until the next day,

The timing was kind of ironic, when you think about it. You see, the very next morning, one of the guys who works near me had a family member's yartzeit. He commemorated it, as usual, by bringing a bottle of scotch and a big box of rugalach.

Kelly saw the treats and exclaimed excitedly "Oh, someone had a baby and they are making a lehayim!"

One of the men that had stopped by for some refreshments offered her an explanation. "Actually, nobody had a baby. Somebody died." thinking he was being sarcastic, Kelly started to laugh. She stopped though when nobody else laughed.

I took pity on her and explained. "He isn't joking. Somebody actually did die." her confusion at that point was complete. "You mean they're drinking booze to celebrate that someone DIED?"

I nodded. She wanted an explanation, but suddenly everyone got busy with work. Some things are better left unexplained.


Chaim said...

Actually according to my brother, the custom was to make a siyum on the yartzeit of the deceased in order to give a merit for the neshama. The siyum is always accompanied with a meal in order to have a seudas mitzva. Apparently, over the years people decided that they liked the food and they no longer made the siyum. Now people just bring in food, and yes it is very weird.

tesyaa said...

Chaim! How dare you say a frum person's custom is weird :)

English Major said...

There is a concept of "tikkun" - it wasn't characterized as a siyum, but along the lines of tzedaka - that those who were hungry in shul could eat the memory of the deceased. It is a chassidishe concept in origin - nowadays there are no longer starving beggars in shul, but the minhag stayed. It's nice, really, to toast to the memory of the dead.

I don't think it's specific to Jews, however. Many cultures get inebriated in the memory of the dead.

Mushkie said...

Poor kelly :) is she a yid? Someone plz explain to her bc i would hate for her to associate something as amazing as rugelach with a yahrtzeit.

Shades of Grey said...

Mt grandfather, who was president of our local chevra kadisha for many years, used to have a minhag after a funeral for the members of the chevra kadisha to gather near the entrance to the cemetary and have a lechaim that they would never have to do another job. Now that's a real "toast" to life.