In 30 years of writing obits, I have never phoned a bereaved family and been asked to come over the house to talk as they sit shiva, or observe the weeklong mourning period.
Yet when the daughters of the deceased made the request Monday, I immediately agreed. This was no ordinary man, after all, but Mr. Arnold Loeb, owner of the Romanian Kosher Sausage Co. at Touhy and Clark.
Yes, I had already eaten lunch, I thought ruefully, driving over. A mistake. Still, I couldn’t help but imagine the spread: The corned beef. The pastrami. The salami. The tubs of chopped liver. Romanian chopped liver. Shivas are normally awash in food. But this. Perhaps, our business complete, I could assemble a heaping plate to take home. Would that be bad form?
Daughters Katharine Loeb and Karen Levin met me and took seats on mourning chairs, with the widow, Lynne Loeb. Orthodox Jews in mourning cover mirrors in the house — you aren’t supposed to think of yourself. They sit shiva on special low chairs, a symbolic returning to earth. (Job 2:13: “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights ... for they saw that his suffering was very great.”)
For all the shivas I’ve attended, I’d never noticed the chairs. Nor picked up on another tradition. I looked at the bare table and made a remark about cold cuts. Chutzpa.
“The tradition is, people are supposed to bring us food and serve us,” Katharine explained, good-naturedly. “It’s their turn to feed us.”
Ah, I thought.
Arnold Loeb’s father, Eugene Loeb started the business in Bucharest, Romania, making sausages in his mother’s kitchen.
“Much to her dismay at times,” Karen said.
The Loeb family survived World War II intact — Romanian Jews fared far better than Jews in, say, Poland. In 1946 the family moved, first to the Dominican Republic, sending their only child ahead to Chicago, where he had uncles.
Arnold Loeb, 83, who died Feb. 27 of pancreatic cancer, went to the Illinois Institute of Technology and became an electrical engineer.
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