Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Niftar: How to attend a funeral when there’s an ocean between you

      Even in Canada, I knew there were two ways of saying a person died: מת/meit and נפטר/niftar. In general, religious people use niftar, even when speaking English – it’s the more polite way of saying it, like “passed away.”

      But when my father died, eleven years ago tomorrow, and a taxi came to take me to the airport, I told the driver we were hurrying because I had to get back to Toronto because “abba sheli meit.”

      There are lots of words you use in religious life that aren’t used so much in contemporary Israeli Hebrew, and so I was just taking a stab at the best possible way of saying it.

      But Israel being Israel, the cab driver decided it was time for a grammar lesson. “Niftar. We say he was niftar.”

      Boy, did I know. (And also – is it my imagination, or only in Israel would a cab driver have the chutzpah correct someone who has just told you their father has died minutes before… ?!)

      These days, I have a habit that makes my 14-year-old daughter (“I’m basically 15”) cringe: telling people my life story. I’ll be standing at the meat counter and the person asks where my accent is from, and I say Canada, and she asks me where it’s better to live, and I say here, and we’re off to the races.

      Out comes the life story, to the best of my Hebrew ability, which isn’t much: living as a religious Jew in Canada, constantly swimming upstream, feeling like I had to