'Shiva Sisters' Keep Jewish Rituals Alive

While mourning the death of a loved one, many may find themselves at a loss when trying to incorporate their family's beliefs and traditions. That's when the Shiva Sisters step in. Their event planning business specializes in shiva, the period of mourning observed by Jews after a death. Michel Martin speaks with Allison Moldo and Danna Black about their work.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, an Oscar-winner lends his voice to the story of a high school band's remarkable reunion. We'll hear from Jamie Foxx, executive producer of the new documentary "Thunder Soul." That's coming up.

But first, it's time for Faith Matters. That's the part of the program where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. And as many people know, the Jewish high holy days are upon us: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They're the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, and they are also a time when many people who are not observant the rest of the year reconnect to the traditions and rituals of their faith.

The loss of a loved one is another time when people reconnect to faith, but one can see where that could be a painful experience, trying to manage all the details while also trying to remember and give proper respect to religious rituals.

And that's where the Shiva Sisters come in. In their L.A.-based business, they specialize in planning Shivas. That's the period of mourning observed by Jews after the death of a loved one. The two walk people through the appropriate Jewish rituals, as well as the mundane details like food and parking.

Danna Black and Allison Moldo are with us now from our studios at NPR West. Thank you both so much for joining us.

DANNA BLACK: How are you?

ALLISON MOLDO: Hello. How are you?

MARTIN: So, first of all, Danna, can you briefly explain what Shiva is?

BLACK: Shiva is a Hebrew word meaning seven. And for the period of mourning after the death of a loved one, the immediate family has a seven-day period in which life as they know it stops, and their focus is on mourning the death of the lost one.

MARTIN: Are their differences between the way, say, reformed Jews, conservative Jews and orthodox Jews might observe this?

MOLDO: Yes. There's even ways within reformed Jews. The Sephardics do things a certain way, where they have to eat first before anyone else who's at the funeral eats. There's all these different traditions within the religion.

MARTIN: How do you keep up with just who does what with who, or how do you keep track?

BLACK: We basically follow the lead of the family. We listen to what the family wants, and we basically create it around their traditions, their family beliefs and the way in which they do things.

MARTIN: You know, on one the hand, you can see where this would be tremendously comforting to offer this to people in a time of need, where you could take some of the details off their plate so that they don't have to worry about all these details at time like this. On the other hand, is anybody ever uncomfortable with the idea to say, gee, I shouldn't need to pay somebody to do this? This is something friends and neighbors should do.

BLACK: We've had more people call and say, we wish we knew about you then we have people say, why should I pay for your services? We just create whatever it is that they want to make it easier.

MARTIN: Has anybody ever made a request of you that you would just not - is there just something you'd like - no, no. We're not doing that.

MOLDO: There's been one request only that I can think of, where a woman wanted a no-host bar at a temple. And so we really...

MARTIN: What does that mean, a no-host bar? You mean like putting money in a box or something?

MOLDO: Exactly, to have people pay for their own drinks. We just weren't comfortable with that. And the rabbi also had to tell her that it just wasn't appropriate. But for the most part, we listen to them, again, without any judgment. And we want to just create an environment where they're comfortable and they can just focus on their loved ones and friends and family.

BLACK: It's nice to help people and it's just a nice feeling to see that, but I do think it takes a very special touch. It's not easy. It's not a topic people want to talk about. It's not an easy time to be around people. They're really hurting and they're really grieving, and we have to be comfortable enough with the subject ourselves to be of benefit to the people we're trying to help.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, I have to clarify one thing: You're not really sisters, are you?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLACK: No, we're not sisters. It's a cute name.

MARTIN: And was that the original name of the business, or did just - people just call you that, and then it just stuck?

MOLDO: No. Our real name is The Mourning Group, and then we came up with this name Shiva Sisters, and we are now contemplating another name for the other religions called Wake Women.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Oh, well, there you go. That makes sense to me. The Shiva Sisters are Danna Black and Allison Moldo. They are an event-planning company that specializes in organizing and catering Shivas and other memorial events. And they were kind enough to join us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Thank you both so much for joining us.

BLACK: Thank you for having us.

MOLDO: Thank you.

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