I had two deaths in the family recently. My great-aunt, aged 99 died, and ladysolly' brother's mother-in-law, aged 97. So I've been to two funerals, and two shivas.
Shiva is a period of a few days after the funeral, where you visit the bereaved. It's a bit like a wake, only with smoked salmon and brioche instead of whiskey and beer. And it's a good opportunity for the family to get together and chat. And cake.
So here's what I learned.
One of my nieces, who is frumm, conforms to the idea that a married woman should always have her hair covered. You thought that was only muslims? But in yiddishkeit, it's slightly different. She covers her hair with a sheitel, a wig. And her wig is exactly the same as her hair, and this is obvious because she has an identical twin sister. So what, exactly, is achieved by her covering her hair with a wig that's exactly the same as her hair? Don't ask me. Although she looked very good, so maybe that's why.
Ladysolly always wears a hat at funerals and suchlike; it's a bit round black hat and it looks very good on her. I wear a hat too, of course, it being compulsory for men to wear something on your head even if it's just a yamulke, and I'm not going to wear my pastafarian headgear at a funeral. So I wear a homburg which is much more dignified than a pasta straining bowl - so much so that I've sometimes been mistaken for one of the rabbis. Although I've never been able to discover the biblical commandment that requires this.
And I heard another story. A relative needed to make kosher her dinner plates and other eating-ware. I didn't hear the start of the tale about why this was necessary, but it was to do with one of her children being frumm. So she contacted the rabbi, and the rabbi said that he could do this for her. He boiled up a big shissel and, wearing heavy gloves, dipped each item into the boiling water for a while. This cost my relative £275, and the hours spent boiling the shissel ruined her cooker. So we discussed that a bit, and another relative related how her mother would bury any offending utensil (for example, if a meat fork had accidentally been used for milk) in the garden. It had to stay buried for a period of time (I don't know how long) and she'd mark it with a plant marker so she'd know when it was OK to dig it up. Although research using Google seems to indicate that the burying idea is completely wrong, although more than one person mentions it.
Anyway, I had schmaltz herring, and smoked salmon, and brioche, and lemon cake, and chocolate cake, lots of coffee and I saw all my cousins and innumerable nephews and nieces, not to mention assorted tiddlers who are too small for me to know their names.