Conferring About Dying & Death by Joe Blair

In June, for the 17th time, Kavod v’Nichum held its’ annual conference, this time in Fort Collins, CO. This is a gathering of people from all over North Amrrica, and sometimes even more far flung. These are all people who have an interest in, or who are involved with, Jewish end-of-life practices and rituals, including providing comfort to the ill and their families, responding when there has been a death, helping families to navigate the maze around death, assisting with Jewish funerals, offering information about funerals cemeteries, offering support and providing comfort to mourners, as well as assisting those who wish to establish, operate, or maintain Jewish cemeteries, and working with communities to educate and encourage each community to offer these Jewish mitzvot to anyone who wishes to have them.

It was a wonderful conference, with a vast array of offerings and something for almost everyone – but you don’t have to take my word for it. The following is a link to an article in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle about the conference. Below the link, I have included article.

https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/pittsburgh-jewish-burial-societies-offer-insights-at-national-conference/?utm_source=Pittsburgh+Jewish+Chronicle+Weekly+Edition&utm_campaign=de8a9f770b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_06_21_03_21&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f9f31a168f-de8a9f770b-88632383

CHEVRA KADISHA

PAINFUL RECOLLECTIONS HAVE PURPOSE

Pittsburgh Jewish burial societies offer insights at national conference

Learning is an act of remembrance and preparation.

By ADAM REINHERZJune 19, 2019, 10:16 pm  1

Stones to be left on a grave
A few of the stones that were placed on each seat before the Pittsburgh panel. Photo Courtesy of Alissa Fall

A few of the stones that were placed on each seat before the Pittsburgh panel. Photo courtesy of Alisa Fall

Respect for the dead requires dignity, purpose and education, which is why, nearly eight months after performing unanticipated tasks, representatives from Pittsburgh’s two Jewish burial societies traveled to Colorado to explain their actions following Oct. 27. In joining others dedicated to the Jewish practice of preparing the deceased for burial, the Pittsburgh contingent shared insights at the 17th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference.

Part of the purpose in traveling to Colorado and participating in this conference was to deliver a call for preparedness, said Malke Frank.

“We were suggesting they go back to their synagogue and talk with their caring committee, or rabbi or chevra members and work through a plan to deal with the issue should it ever happen, to discuss within a congregational framework death and traditional Jewish practices and to forge relationships with other Jewish communal organizations, like we did, so people already have a tradition of working together.”

Frank co-founded the New Community Chevra Kadisha of Greater Pittsburgh in 2004. Since then, she has attended the North American conference and used it as an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals. This year, it was important to make clear the uniqueness of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and its relevance to the period following Oct. 27.

“One of the things I talked about is how Pittsburgh has a real tradition, a decades-old tradition, of these communal organizations working together for whatever the needs are, whether to plan a program or something tragic, whatever it is,” she said. “Another layer of that is some of the persons who are involved in these communal institutions are friends outside of their professional lives. … In a lot of cities, the people in various organizations don’t even know each other.”

“The reality of the world today is these things do happen and there needs to be a plan that hopefully you don’t have to put into place,” said Jonathan Schachter, executive director of the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association of Greater Pittsburgh, and a member of the New Community Chevra Kadisha since 2007.

Schachter participated in several panels at the Colorado conference. Being in the company of fellow speakers and listeners was beneficial to “decompressing and working through what we had been through,” he said.

What transpired on Oct. 27 and after is difficult to address because “it’s something that’s very emotional for me for a lot of reasons — obviously the horror that we all experienced and everyone knows everyone,” he added.

“This was the hardest thing for me since the massacre because it brought back all of the memories and all of the emotions we went through,” echoed Alisa Fall.

Kavod v'Nichum Program for the 17th Annual Conference
Kavod v’Nichum Program for the 17th Annual Conference

Conference program. Photo courtesy of Alisa Fall

Since joining the New Community Chevra Kadisha in 2014, Fall has performed numerous taharot (ritual purifications of the dead). But after Oct. 27, she and others undertook an additional practice: shmira (watching over the deceased’s body prior to burial). Fall designated a portion of her Colorado remarks to describing the latter ritual act.

“We did not know much about shmira, but wanted to do anything we could to help,” she said. After bodies were released from the crime scene, “we arrived that evening to the most gracious funeral directors that went out of their way to comfort us. We read prayers, sang songs and received a phone call from our friend Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, who leads Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City. He offered comfort, prayers and love.”

Fall also described her involvement in cleaning the Tree of Life building.

“It was surreal as we sat in the all-purpose room where my family attended Purim carnivals and holiday services. I was now dressed in full protective gear, head to toe, with tools in hand. Rabbi [Elisar] Admon briefed us on what needed to be done as the men and women were divided into separate groups. He made us feel comfortable and at ease during such a daunting task,” she added.

Admon, a member of Pittsburgh’s Gesher Hachaim Jewish Burial Society, also talked about the aftermath of Oct. 27 at the Colorado conference. Apart from describing his role in “approaching” the Tree of Life site both in the hours and weeks after the attack, Admon shared stories related to his involvement with ZAKA, an Israeli group of volunteer emergency response teams, in order to provide conference attendees an understanding of how to handle “events dealing with blood, suicide, a car accident or shooting,” he said.

Kohenet Keshira haLev Fife, who is not a member of either Steel City Jewish burial society but maintains a Pittsburgh presence, participated in the conference and said in an email it was “an incredible opportunity be with 140 other people who are dedicated to the sacred work of tending to people at the end of life.”

The June 3-5 event featured an array of speakers, as well as sessions dedicated to addressing spiritual and ethical wills, green burials and end-of-life accompaniments.

The conference (which will be held next year in Pittsburgh) afforded “an opportunity to convene, get together and be in the presence of people who do the sacred work we do,” said Schachter.

Tuesday morning, before beginning a nearly day-long focus on events pertaining to Oct. 27, conference attendees arrived to discover a single stone placed on each seat. Attendees were told they could hold the stone, gift the stone or use it however they liked. When members of the Pittsburgh contingent finished describing Oct. 27, people approached the podium. One by one, listeners placed stones in the speakers’ hands.

“It was pretty powerful. They showed how they related to me and what I had gone through,” said Frank.

The moment grew out of the Jewish tradition of leaving stones at gravesites, a custom that some believe is meant to signify permanence — and that just as stones weather time, so too will memories remain.

Frank said that when she and the other Pittsburgh attendees were speaking, “you would hear gasps. People weren’t able to understand how we were able to do it. It was hard for them to comprehend and digest that this happened, how it happened, where it happened, the role of the chevra kadisha in it.”

There was one other fact the Pittsburgh group made clear, added Frank: “How we were able to live through it.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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If this sounds interesting to you, please think about attending the 18th Annual Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference in June of 2020. You can find more about it online at Jewish-Funerals.Org by clicking the ‘Conferences’ link the menu list at the bottom of the home page.

 

 

 

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Upcoming Gamliel Institute Courses

The next course scheduled for the Gamliel Institute is Course 3 – Chevrah Kadisha Education, Organization, and Leadership (EOL). It focuses on leadership, communal education, and organizational skills for creating and maintaining a Chevrah Kadisha. It will run September 3rd through December 17th 2019. Registration is $500. with a volume and clergy discount available.

 

Gamliel Continuing Education provides advanced programs in three 90 minute to 2 hour sessions on consecutive Wednesdays in the Spring and Fall each year. The next series will be September 4th, 11, and 18th, 2019, taught by Rabbi En Leader. The topic will be Taharah Liturgy. Tuition is $72.00.

 

Taste of Gamliel is a series delivered on a monthly basis, consisting of five 90 minute sessions. The tuition is $36.00. In general the series runs from January to May or June, usually on Sundays. The 2020 topic will be announced soon.

 

Gamliel Café is a free monthly online gathering of Gamliel Students at which one of the Gamliel students or faculty will offer a teaching or lead a discussion, and the conversation will flow from there, with an opportunity to catch up and network..It is scheduled for the third Thursday of the month, when there is no holiday or other reason to cancel. 90 minutes.

The next Gamliel Café will be on June 20th, and will feature Rabbi Richard F. Address, the newly announced incoming Dean of the Gamliel Institute.

 

To register for any of these events, go to jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. For more information or to discuss special circumstances, contact us at info@jewish-funerals.org or 410-733-3700.

 

If you are interested in submitting a blog entry, please be in touch with us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or 304-989-4014. We welcome articles from 750 to 3000 words that relate to Jewish matters around living Jewishly, the end of life, dying, death, chevrah kadisha, Taharah, Shmirah, comforting the ill and mourners, and other related issues.

 

We hope that you find this blog to be uplifting and inspiring. We would welcome your thoughts and reactions.

About Expired and Inspired

Expired and Inspired is Kavod V’Nichum’s blog on all matters relating to life end, death, funerals, and comfort. 

The topic of death and dying has long been a taboo subject. Because death comes to all of us, and touches almost all of us in our life, we feel that it needs to be open for conversation and learning – not necessarily in a morbid fashion: there are aspects of this part of life that are beautiful and touching. Our view is that the death of a loved one is sad, but the sacred, holy work in which we engage in this arena can be spiritual, loving, transformative, and life-affirming. Talking about it should not be ‘taboo’ or avoided. There is even room, at times, for humor, as well as awe, love, and honor, as we explore this universal part of life.

Expired and Inspired is intended to educate, reveal, and share stories in an interesting and compelling way about the people involved, and the Jewish process, rituals, and activities that include Bikkur Cholim (comforting the ill and the dying) and the work of Caring Committees, and all aspects concerning the Jewish approach to the end of life, death & dying, the work of the Chevrah Kadisha (the Holy Society involved with preparation of the deceased for burial), care for the deceased, and comfort for mourners and those bereaved.

SUBJECTS WE WILL COVER

Our range of topics is very broad. As a part of what we include we consider Shmirah (watching or guarding) the body (and soul) of the deceased, burial preparations at ‘home’ or done ‘personally’ by family or community members vs. those provided by professionals, suitable locations for funerals and memorial services, the specifics of Jewish funerals and memorial services, all aspects of Jewish rituals, customs, and ceremonies, Jewish forms of mourning, comforting and supporting mourners, Jewish issues around cremation and other forms of non-burial, ‘difficult’ or complicated situations, ‘green’ funerals and cemeteries, concerns with care for and ownership/maintenance/regulation of cemeteries and Jewish burial locations, the fees and costs associated with funerals, and other related matters, with an emphasis on first person stories. Our goal is to draw attention, inform, raise interest, educate, and encourage others to learn more about the work that we do, to consider calling on the organizations that do this work in their community at their time of need, and perhaps to consider becoming involved in this work in their own community.

 

We are not limited other than by what our authors choose to cover.

KAVOD v’NICHUM

Kavod v’Nichum (Hebrew for “honor and comfort”) uses education and advocacy to empower Jews of all backgrounds to reclaim the mitzvot (“commandments” or “good deeds”) of honoring the dead. The organization ensures that local groups and congregations can support mourners through traditional Jewish activities and rituals in ways that are accessible and relevant to today’s Jewish community. Kavod v’Nichum helps the Jewish community engage with traditional practices while giving individuals the information they need to adapt those traditions in their own meaningful ways.

Kavod v’Nichum encourages and assists the organization of bereavement committees and Chevrah Kadisha groups in synagogues and communities so that they can perform Jewish funeral, burial, and mourning mitzvot; protect and shield bereaved families from exploitation; and provide information, education and technical assistance. Kavod v’Nichum is the premier North American organization providing assistance, training, and resources about Jewish dying, death, funeral, and bereavement practices for Chevrah Kadisha groups and bereavement committees in synagogues and communities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Kavod v’Nichum also works to expand and adapt its manuals and resources to serve the needs of a diverse Jewish community, taking into consideration emerging concerns such as interfaith, same-gender and other non-traditional families, transgender persons, and those interested in “green” burials.

Kavod v’Nichum was recognized and named as one of the 50 most innovative and cutting edge Jewish Organizations for 2013-2014 in the Slingshot guide (http://www.slingshotfund.org/overview/). Organizations included in the Guide are identified as driving the future of Jewish life and engagement by motivating new audiences to participate in their work and responding to the needs of individuals and communities – both within and beyond the Jewish community – as never before. The Slingshot Guide has become a go-to resource for volunteers, activists and donors looking for new opportunities and projects that, through their innovative nature, ensure that the Jewish community remains relevant and thriving. Organizations included in the Guide are evaluated on their innovative approach, the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector and their effectiveness at achieving results. “The groundbreaking organizations that we highlight in the Slingshot Guide are game-changers in the realms of community engagement, social justice impact, and religious and spiritual life. The Slingshot Guide is not just a book listing organizations doing interesting things; it’s a resource relied upon by doers and donors alike. It’s the framework for a community that through the collaboration that results from inclusion in the Guide, becomes something significantly more effective than what each of the individual organizations can achieve on their own” according to Will Schneider, Executive Director of Slingshot.

Kavod v’Nichum’s website (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/about-kavod-vnichum) offers the most comprehensive resource available for Jewish end-of-life matters. The organization provides technical assistance and educational materials, and organizes Chevrah Kadisha (“holy society”) groups at the local level to perform Jewish funerals and mourning activities. Kavod v’Nichum also hosts the North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, the only annual gathering of its kind (http://jewish-funerals.org/north-american-chevra-kadisha-and-jewish-cemetery-conferences).

THE GAMLIEL INSTITUTE

The Gamliel Institute (http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute) is the foremost center for study, learning, advocacy, and leadership training concerning Jewish end of life practices. The Institute is a project of Kavod v’Nichum (Honor and Comfort). The Gamliel Institute offers distance learning classes using the latest and best technology for rabbis, cantors, medical and health professionals, lay leaders, and other interested persons from across North America. These courses prepare individuals to assist grieving families and to train volunteers within their communities to perform Jewish end-of-life rituals and support members of their community.

It is the only institution (of which we are aware) that offers rigorous instruction at a graduate level in courses on the topics of the History, Origins, and Evolution of the Chevrah Kadisha; Taharah & Shmirah; Education, Organizing & Training a Chevrah Kadisha; Nechama (Comforting); & Ritual Practice. The Covenant Foundation has recognized the value of the work that the Gamliel Institute does by awarding a multi-year grant to fund the development of the fifth (and final) course in the curriculum on the subject of Ritual Practice (to be taught starting in Spring 2015). The Gamliel Institute offers a variety of ‘Taste of Gamliel’ sessions, class sessions focusing on specific topics, such as Complicated Taharot, Infection Control, Non-Traditional Mourners, and Taharah Liturgy.

 

The Gamliel Institute was founded in 2010, and began offering courses to the first cohort of students in October of that year. There have now been multiple cohorts, and at this point there are six courses that comprise the instruction cycle of the Gamliel Institute.

  1. The History, Origins, and Evolution of the Chevrah Kadisha
  2. Taharah & Shmirah
  3. Education, Organizing, and Training
  4. Nechama
  5. Ritual Practice
  6. International Perspectives

Each course is twelve sessions (except the sixth, which is six sessions and a travel period of over 2.5 weeks), and requires extensive reading, preparation, chevrutah study, writing, and hands-on work. Several of the courses also require development of a project in an area selected by and of deep interest to the student, usually something that will actually be implemented and used in their community, and possibly replicated elsewhere.

OUR AUTHORS

We have invited those who are involved in this sacred work to submit items for this blog. Among those who have joined us are some the officers, staff, and members of Kavod v’Nichum, Administrators, Instructors, and students in the Gamliel Institute, and others who wish to participate. We welcome original submissions by the author, but reserve the right to accept or reject, publish as is, edit, or modify the submission. The author retains the copyright to the work in regard to any other publishing of that material so long as they include a notice that the work originally appeared in the Kavod vNichum blog Expired and Inspired, but Kavod v’Nichum has full rights to reproduce and use with attribution any item that it publishes as part of this blog, for the purposes of instruction, inclusion and display on our website, or as part of training materials, newsletters, or other publications we produce and distribute.