Marina Mayer, managing editor, critiques the dessert table at a recent Shiva to find that chocolate and brownies aren’t just a symbol of Jewish tradition but also a form of comfort food.

Sitting Shiva

Sitting Shiva isn’t intended to be a good-time-had-by-all outing.

    For those of you not familiar with how Jewish funerals work, sitting Shiva is the act of mourning a recently deceased friend or family member immediately after burial. Typically, the family gathers in one home and receives visitors who bring trays of food because the close survivors of the person who passed away are not responsible for cooking or preparing meals.

    In my 28 years of life, I unfortunately have attended a plethora of Shivas for grandparents, great aunts, great uncles, neighbors, friends, family friends, friends of friends, sometimes a friend of a friend of a friend (call it Jewish geography, where everybody knows everyone).

    One thing I’ve learned is that Jews don’t mourn, but instead reflect. We share memories and tell stories, laugh and cry, watch homemade videos and flip through photo albums. We decorate the walls with medals, awards, letters and other memorabilia and build what may look somewhat like a shrine. Although it’s considered the second part of a funeral, it’s more of a mini-celebration of the life once had.

    And, of course, there is always one heck of a dessert table!

    Recently, I attended the Shiva of a neighbor’s family member, situated right down the street of where I grew up in Buffalo Grove, Ill.

    My father and I arrived on time (we’re both sticklers for being prompt) and made “our rounds,” making sure we shook hands, hugged and shared our condolences to all members involved in the passing of this man whom I never met.

    Then, like any Shiva, we went to check out “the spread,” otherwise known as a scouting expedition to see what kind of good snacks and treats everyone brought.

    Pulled brisket was steaming in a crockpot surrounded by a tray of whole-wheat buns, Panini bread and bagels of all varieties, including cinnamon raisin, original and wheat. Immediately next to that was another tray of cheese and salted crackers, various vegetables with Ranch dressing, assorted French rolls and Lox. Close by were small bowls of cream cheese and salad dressing.    

    However, I conveniently couldn’t find the salad.

    Then it was show time.

    The dessert table, which I tend to frequent first, consisted of mouth-watering chocolate treats covered in sprinkles and drizzled fudge, brownies draped in powdered sugar and chocolate and vanilla cupcakes. There were Oreo cookies, Milano cookies, Nilla Wafers, macaroons and my all-time favorite, mini chocolate éclairs.

    Thank goodness somebody decided to provide this sultry treat – a comfort food of sorts. As I sat next to my dad admiring my plate of desserts, it forced memories of my grandfather’s Shiva when I sat on my grandparents plastic, neon green couch, scarfing down éclairs as crocodile tears rolled down my face. I remembered that my grandfather would have liked eating those éclairs at his own Shiva, let alone at this one.

    He would’ve been excited - this was the best dessert table I’ve experienced in a while.

    While I daydreamed of that sad day in October 1996, my dad turned to me as if we had just met and said, “Do you ever go to a Shiva and not visit the dessert table?”

    That’s like asking me if I decided to wear shoes today.

    To me, Shivas have gone hand-in-hand with a divine dessert table like birthday parties supply cake.

    Although I don’t particularly care to attend Shivas (I mean, who really wants to attend a somber event where someone just buried a loved one?), I have to say, the dessert table certainly eases the pain. It may bring back painful memories of burying my own loved ones, but as I dabbled in desserts that night, it brought a smile to my face.

    The dessert table is my personal comfort food.

    Especially when everyone brings the good stuff.


Marina Mayer, managing editor