How Does One BE in a Time of Pandemic? by Rick Light

March 21, 2020

It occurred to me on my early morning walk today, that how most people present themselves is different than it was, say, a few months ago. And, how we are in the world matters. Let me explain.

I went to the grocery store yesterday. Shelves were about 30% full, many empty, gaping, reminders of the fear-based rush we’ve seen in the past week. People in the store were wary, still generally respectful to each other, but not open. Instead, their faces showed fatigue, fear, distrust, and uncertainty. People were wearing facemasks, gloves, and some carried paper towels or other cloth to use between their hands and the shopping carts and checkout pens. Nobody spoke except the checkout clerk. The only sound was the loud beep of the scanner as each item was registered for payment.

I have been a member of our Chevrah Kadisha, taking care of Jewish dead, for some 25 years. Yesterday, our chevrah took the unprecedented step of deciding that we will not perform this ritual during this time of potential life or death risk for our team members. Unbelievable.

On my walk at 6:00am, I saw no one. Not a single person was out walking, enjoying the gorgeous early morning fresh air and lovely sky, serenaded by birds as they awoke. On most days in past years, this time would be filled with runners and dog-walkers. Today was unusual. Walking in the crisp air, as is usual on my morning walks, I was reminded:

    • I was hyper-aware of Self, and of the world around me
    • I was alive, I was breathing, I could see, hear, smell, feel, touch
    • The world around me was brilliantly lovely, beautiful, rich, and abundant with life
    • Spring was unfolding, buds bursting forth from winter slumber, baby rabbits joined me in my exploration of the day
    • I was so very lucky

All of this filled me with an overwhelming sense of wonder and gratitude. And, this was not new. This has been my daily sense for years now – never take a moment for granted – this moment is very special and worth celebrating. I have a lovely framed Japanese calligraphy in my kitchen, where I’ll see it every morning when I fix coffee. It was a gift from my wife, a capable artist, who made it for me. It says, loosely translated, “this is a moment” – meaning, every moment is special and unique.

Later, while making the morning brew using a hand-held press that requires manual assembly and operation to create coffee, it dawned on me that what’s important these days, in this time of pandemic fear, isolation, confusion, and uncertainty, is to slow down. To be IN this moment fully. To connect to ourselves, to our world, to each other, moment by moment, authentically.

By slowing down, living deliberately, consciously, actively, we can make a difference. We can travel calmly through this turmoil. We can support each other gently, lovingly, patiently through deliberate kindness, awareness, and presence.  Sometimes just being present is enough. Today, maybe the best thing we can do for our friends and family, the ones we love, is to simply be here for them – not “do” for them – but be present with integrity, and maybe even silently, and stand in our love.

What does this mean? Since now we must spend less time in-person with those we love, we must ensure that they know we are loving them, standing with them, as we pass through this experience together. We must use FaceTime, Skype, social media, text, email, to let them know we’re here, and we care. We don’t know who will be in our lives next week or the week after. And, we don’t have to do much. Just be calmly authentic in our love.  This is what will sustain us, support us, and uplift us. Help us to handle this unprecedented experience.

Ask yourself, “How am I being in the world?” – Am I radiating fear, anger, disharmony, or perhaps kindness, inner peace, and joy? We each get to choose our response to each moment. And, today, this pandemic day, is a moment.

The great teachers throughout time have always said that now is all that matters – the past is gone and future not yet, so what we do now, how we are in this moment, that’s what makes life alive. Now is where we can make a difference. Now is the only moment we have to love.

Remind your friends and family today, of the exquisite beauty in this moment. Remember that our appreciation of beauty extends naturally into our gratitude for life, friends, family, blessings. Share this as an integral part of being present in this moment.

Today I was reminded. Today is a blessing. Each of my friends and family members is a huge blessing in my life. And, if I live deliberately, consciously, intentionally, I can make my life a blessing.

Together, we can make this strange time better.

Rick Light
Rick Light

Richard A. Light has been meditating and teaching spiritual development for four decades. He teaches about conscious living and dying, as well as Reb Zalman’s, “Spiritual Eldering” approach to aging. He is a graduate of and a senior instructor for the Gamliel Institute and has published seven books. His latest book, Sebastian, helps us find Self and live through kindness. Read Mr. Light’s full biography and learn about his books at https://richardalight.com.

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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.