Entertaining Obituaries and Yated Neeman Safety Warnings

I’ve been reading Marilyn Johnson’s book “The Dead Beat” about obituaries and obituary writing. Apparently newspapers pride themselves on their obits, and the best writers even have fans. You would expect a book like that to be incredibly entertaining, but I couldn’t finish it. I think the author needed to distance herself more from the writers. My husband says it’s because there’s not much you can say about obituaries beyond giving examples. But I will be paying more attention to obit style in the future.

Every Wednesday I receive a complimentary copy of the haredi, Hebrew-language newspaper Yated Neeman. Last week a headline about shmitta referred to the rabbanim “dalim.” This term, which I have never seen elsewhere, refers to the religious zionist rabbis. It’s a play on words because d”l is the abbreviation for dati-leumi (religious zionist), and the Hebrew word “dal” means poor or inadequate.

So I skip the “news” and go straight to the readers’ letters (there’s no obituary page). You won’t find letters like these in any secular Israeli newspapers. The letters of Yated Neeman reflect an innocence and sincerity that seems anachronistic. My favorite was about an unlabeled cake delivered to the writer’s home one Friday afternoon. There was no illness or new baby in the family that week, or any other reason for a cake. The writer, who included his phone number, wanted YN readers to know that the cake was now in the freezer, ready to be claimed by either the baker or the intended recipient.

Often the letter-writer wants to make amends for inadvertently causing damage to someone’s property, usually on a bus.

A lively discussion some months ago centered around proper etiquette for young couples who borrow apartments for Shabbat. In one case the hosts found 5 shekel on the table, and a ruined sheet, rolled up into a ball, in their children’s bedroom. Another couple was told that their guests wouldn’t be needing the refrigerator. Nevertheless the guests set the refrigerator to the Shabbat setting (disabling the thermostat) and forgot to reset it afterward. The hosts returned on Tuesday to find the appliance damaged beyond repair.

This week features a letter in a highlighted box reminding fathers that the latest time for recitation of the Shema prayer is around 8:30 am this time of year. Therefore, the tinokot shel beit rabban in the various talmudei torah (religious elementary schools) will miss this important mitzvah “that cannot be corrected.” (Presumably they get to school too late, but I don’t understand this because I thought they start at 8:00.) He encourages fathers to say Shema with their sons in the mornings, and recommends that the schools send a notice to the parents.

One writer’s wife gave birth the week of Rosh Hashana, with the family scheduled to move to a new apartment the very next day. Mrs. Wechsler, a staff member from the Bnei Brak hospital Maayanei Hayeshua, heard about the situation. She found some volunteers and together they set up the house for the holiday and helped the new mother recuperate. Mrs. W.’s husband installed light fixtures and mezuzot in the hours before Rosh Hashana. And the recipients were left with the feeling that the helpers enjoyed themselves and were happy to be earning merit for the Day of Judgment.

Many letters describe a medical condition in the hope of learning from others with similar experiences. Sometimes a letter about a “miracle cure” prompts another letter warning readers to be skeptical.

My favorite letter this week is entitled “Mysterious” Explosion. Many letters are written in a literary style making them hard to translate.

I feel obligated to share something that happened to us, from which homemakers can learn to be wary as it is written “from the sharp comes the sweet.”

A few weeks ago I lit my oven to bake something. The oven worked for about half an hour, until a tremendous explosion caused the glass door to fly some distance and shatter. There’s no need to add what a great miracle it was that with God’s help, no one was hurt.

When I checked the oven to see what caused the explosion it turned out that a can of vegetables had been “hiding” inside. The food in the can reached the boiling point and exploded. It would never have occurred to me to look for such a can in the oven.

Because children like to play with cans [MiI: mine like to make a store], the obvious conclusion is, before turning on the oven, for one to check carefully that no can or any other dangerous container is “hiding” there. It’s very important that this matter be publicized in order to prevent a similar occurrence, and this will be my reward.
M.S., Jerusalem

Remember (lehavdil) Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, who pretended to be Gretel and pushed the “witch” (a rubber doll) into the oven and ruined her sister’s birthday cake?


  1. I always, in every newspaper I read, find the letters to the editor the most interesting part of the newspaper…
    This was entertaining. thanks

  2. MiI, would you please save the papers for me? I have never read one and I think it’s going to be entertaining. I LOVE the innocence! I know that these types are out there, but why oh why don’t we meet up with them on a daily basis???

  3. I always wonder about the naive-sweet tone of the writers of these types of letters: Are they really like that, or is this a mode they adopt when writing, and they’re generally like the rest of us? I guess some are, and some aren’t.
    Must be the cyncial NY side of me that thinks “Come on, really?!”

  4. In Eretz HaKodesh, there really really really are people like that, who are NOT like “us”. Really.

  5. mominisrael says

    Robin, thanks for your comment. My son hates homework too.

  6. I read an article in Haaretz not long ago which was trying to “decipher” the coding of the haredi obituaries. They’re quite different from what is seen on the secular side of the fence, that’s for sure.
    I was reading through a few of your previous posts. I see that you too have a son in kita aleph this year. I hope he finds his way there soon and starts feeling more positive about things. It is a huge change for them. My son is basically enjoying the transition, but is complaining bitterly about all the homework. The blush is definitely off the rose on that one.

  7. Interesting…good to know I am not the only one with an obituary fascination:-) I think it’s the most interesting section of the newspaper. I think I need to check out this book.

  8. I like the style of those articles/letters- nice change of pace from what you usually see in the news!
    And Ramona! Of course I remember her, and her sister Beezus. My little sister and I LOVED those books!!!

  9. On obits, someone I know who had an internship at a newspaper said that many obits of famous people are written while they are still alive so that they would be ready to put in the paper the moment the death is announced.
    On letters to the editor- I’ve gotten some naive people writing to my publication. One even responded with shock that her letter was printed, though it did not divulge her identity and she had never requested that it not be printed.

  10. mominisrael says

    Yes, the book talks about that. I remember once on the Mary Tyler Moore show, Mary threw out the “obituaries” file instead of the “obsolete” file, and had to rewrite all of those obits.

  11. mominisrael says

    Alissa, let us know what you think about the book.

  12. mominisrael says

    Alissa, let us know what you think about the book.