Went to Sniatyner Shul
Yesterday I mentioned how I sat shiva for my father and how I found the tradition helpful even without my grandfather's deep spiritual attachment to Jewish ritual. But it's tough to write about Papa's father's death, and Papa's own period of mourning (the Shabbat service Papa writes about above was his first since learning of his father's death) without my own feelings and memories interfering.
I would like to discuss the role of landsmanshaftn and other immigrant support societies in connection with Papa's mention of the Sniatyner schul; I would like to explain how the Sniatyner schul was probably not a physical synagogue, but a congregation of people from Papa's home town of Sniatyn that shared a chapel with several others; I would like to explain how even today's modern-day Sniatyner society, probably descended from the very group that ran the Sniatyner schul, doesn't quite know where the schul was; I would like to discuss how, even though landsmanshaftn were less practically important to immigrants' lives by the 1920's, an organization like the Sniatyner schul must have been a great comfort to Papa who, unable to travel to the old country to mourn his father, could at least pray for him among people of his home town.
I would like to discuss all that but I can barely think about anything but my father's death and how I'd like to find some keys to mourning him properly in my grandfather's diary. In some ways, the circumstances of our experiences were similar. Neither of us had seen our fathers for years when they died. We both entered our periods of mourning with our images of our fathers frozen in time. For each of us, our fathers had become, in the weeks and months leading up to their deaths, transformed by illness and age into creatures we would never know or see.
Yet the distance that separated Papa from his father was real, insurmountable; the distance that separated me from mine was something else, far more confusing, opaque, difficult to map. I may have learned the value of sitting shiva, but perhaps more so because I'd seen, at his tiny funeral where there were not even enough men present for a minyan, how the absence of ritual made the day so much more difficult to negotiate than it could have been. He had been sick for so long, and it had taken its toll on each member of my family differently, and we all wandered away from his grave and into our own heads instead of a room full of people and food and structure. It is impossible for me to remember that day and impossible for me to forget it. It is impossible to change.
How can I hope to discuss what Papa went through when my own memories are so raw and different?