“Chew” by Carren S. Oler (June 20, 2017)
[Ed. Note: There have accrued over the centuries some folk practices, local beliefs, superstitions, and customs around issues of dying and death in the Jewish world. This poem touches on just one of these that is fairly widespread among those with connections to certain parts of the world. Enjoy. — JB]
For Zayda’s visits from time to time
From a different city,
We children were excited
And wanted to wear our best
To look pretty.
Zayda was a tailor and never far
From needle, thread, and thimble
In the pocket of his ever-present vest
One inside the other, a carefully placed nest.
I rushed to hug him
And wasn’t so nimble
(I was eight) and snagged my sleeve
On the lamp table
Not able to stop my skip and hop.
I was shocked, sure my mother would be mad.
(It was the newest blouse I had!)
“Sh, Sh” Zayda gestured, “Come here.”
And as I came near, he said,
“Chew?” What could be stranger?
But I felt I was in real danger.
So I stood there and chewed.
And in no time my mood
Lifted as he sewed my sleeve
With perfect, even stitches.
And my mother never knew
Or so I thought then….
Sometime later (months? years?)
After my fears abated,
I asked my mother why,
When sewing my sleeve,
Zayda told me to “chew”…
She laughed and wasn’t shy
About the explanation she knew.
“Zayda belongs to the Chevrah Kadisha
And is one of the tailors who sews
Tachrichim (shrouds) on those who have died.
And he says we cannot hide
From the Angel of Death who hovers…
BUT, if he is sewing on one who chews,
It’s not news that such a person lives.
And the Angel of Death is chased away
And cannot stay.”
Years later, as I was starting to sew a button
Back on my then young son’s sleeve,
You can best believe
That the first thing I said to him was,
Carren S. Oler, Esq.
Freelance Paralegal; Previously in private law practice with an emphasis on general litigation, family law, dispute resolution, mediation and collaborative law. Retired from legal practice following a breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy at Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Currently and gratefully in remission.
Shmira Coordinator: Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington, February 2017 to date; Program provided 246.5 Shomer hours in May 2017. Chevrah Kadisha member at two Maryland synagogues; occasional Taharah trainer.
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