Shivah for My Mother: Seven Days of Mourning, director Yael Katzir, Israel, 2003, 55 min., Beta SP, Color, Hebrew with English subtitles.
(To be presented Thursday, Feb. 17, as part of the San Diego Jewish
by Donald H. Harrison
This documentary is an examination of the Jewish mourning custom in which family members refrain from their normal activities and receive well-wishers during the week following the death of a loved one. It also illustrates how this time can help a family to heal--not only from the shock of the death but also from the hurts and tensions that have diminished their relationships.
We come to know Yael Katzir, the director, and through her memories, we also gain an appreciation for the lives of her mother Ziona as well as of the father, Erwin Rabau, who had died previously. We learn something of Israel's social divisions. Erwin had been a German refugee, a cultured professor, while the mother was a free-spirited Sabra, who had been born in an Arab village near Ramallah and who campaigned in her salad years for people to speak Hebrew, rather than German, Yiddish, or other Diaspora languages.
When the father found the mother's behavior upsetting, he called her "an Oriental," but when he was pleased with her, he called her "my Bedouin." Other Germans--referred to as Yekkes--maintained a similar psychological distance from non-German Israelis; in fact, none of the father's friends or relatives bothered to come to the shiva. It was was if, "as soon as dad died, they wiped mom off the map."
Whatever affection Ziona received, she did not pass it on to her children. Yael begins the film recollecting that "I always wanted her to hug me and say that I was a good girl--she never did!" As the week of mourning progresses, and family members talk more and more about deep personal matters, Yael is surprised--and hurt--to learn that her son Dan--the young man behind the camera--feels that she too is a tough, unbending mother. Furthermore, she learns, her daughter Tami agrees: "Yes, you were tough: you wouldn't allow us to cry..show complaints." Furthermore, the metaphors used in the house, were military in nature. Yael had brought up her children with the notions of "struggle" and "mission."
Besides Yael, we meet her older sister and younger brother. The documentary explores their relationships, as well as that of Dan to his sister, Tami. We also watch the family go through the painful process of going through the mother's papers and effects, deciding waht to throw away, and how to divide the rest.