An Unusual Taharah and Burial by Isaac Pollak

Long Stem Rose

About three weeks ago I was asked to participate in a Taharah for a 42 year old whose family has been long term members of Congregation Shearith Israel, often called The Spanish Portuguese Synagogue on the West Side of Manhattan, the first synagogue in the US established in 1654 in New Amsterdam. (before it was called New York). They call me from time to time when they need help. They do their Taharahs a bit differently (I told the Rabbi

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We Are the Ones God Sends by Rabbi Stephen Karol


We gather together at our Yizkor (memorial) services for a common purpose – to honor the memories of loved ones through the ritual of communal remembering. When we do, we fit into three categories of mourners: those who have experienced a death in the last few months, those who have experienced a death in the last year, and those who have experienced a death or more than one death over a period of years. If we were to be constituted

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Where Is My Gamliel Café? What Happened to Taste of Gamliel?

Kavod v'Nichum Old Logo

You may be wondering why you are not hearing anything about the Gamliel Café or the Taste of Gamliel series. It is mostly because we aren’t talking about them!   As of December 2019, we transitioned from the structure you were familiar with and knew to a new and exciting new approach. Those series you knew are now no longer offered in the format you knew. Instead, we have modified our offerings, and have revamped the structure and how we

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Analog Practice in a Digital World by Matt Harle

DIY Analog/Digital

Why join a Chevrah?  Why now? This essay seeks to address these questions from two angles, one global and one personal, as well as to explore the intersection of the two.   First the personal.  My father died in 1999, my mother in 2012.  In both cases I felt compelled to find ritual means that would allow me to honor their individuality and the specificity of my connection to them.  The idea of handing things over to “professionals”, whether a

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Death in the Sukkah by Matt Harle

Cupcakes with Day of Dead decorations

I think this may be a story of control submitting to grace. But first some background. For six years now, my synagogue, Beacon Hebrew Alliance in Beacon, NY, has built a sukkah in a public park on Main Street. Each year there’s a different theme, with programming reflecting that theme. This year, for a variety of reasons, the sukkah almost didn’t get built. But as Sukkot approached, the loss seemed too great, and we rallied to get it done, this

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The Bodies That Haunt Me by Sheryl Slone Tarkoff

Meit/ah on gurney in Taharah room

It’s the bodies that haunt me.  Each tells a story, shares a history.  Scars from cuts or C-section births, bruises from blood draws or recent falls, surgical incision lines.   The first Meitah (deceased woman) I saw with her mouth agape and her body wrinkled, was in her 90s.  As a new member of the Chevrah Kadisha (CK), I was given the job of holding the meitah’s head while others performed the rituals of Taharah (ritual purification). I felt awkward

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“Accompanying the Dead” by Rabbi Stephen Karol

Pallbearers Carry the Casket to the Grave

My Uncle Harry died in March of 2002.  I had gone to Kansas City to visit my parents and, hopefully, to help them move from an apartment into an assisted-living facility.  Between the time I had made my travel plans and the time I arrived, my uncle had been hospitalized for what the emergency room doctor thought was a heart attack.  In doing their morning check-in, the nurses at the assisted-living facility to which my uncle had moved in October

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Expired And Inspired – Our Journey & Holiday Wishes

Now that we have passed the annual Selichot service, and we are about to enter into the days of awe, it is again time to pause and take stock, review where Expired and Inspired has been, where it is, and where it is going. It is appropriate – Elul is a time of introspection, retrospection, and prospection.   Expired and Inspired began as a concept in early 2014 as a way to share some of the experiences, thoughts, emotions, and

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The Weirdest Condolence Note I’ve Ever Written By Susan Esther Barnes


I have written a lot of condolence notes. It’s not because I have known a lot of people who died, or because the people who died had very large families. Rather, it is because I was on the board of my synagogue for seven years, and one of the things our board members do is we write letters to the family of members of the congregation who died. So, I have some experience writing condolence notes about people I may

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When a Homeless Jewish Man Died Alone, a Community Stepped Up to Help by Makena Mezistrano

Placing the Body in the Coffin. (From Bodenschatz, "Kirchliche Verfassung.")

[Ed. Note: This article by Makena Mezistrano is originally appeared in  Jewish in Seattle Magazine on April 15, 2019. The link to the original article is Our thanks to Jewish In Seattle Magazine for granting us permission. — JB] When a Homeless Jewish Man Died Alone, a Community Stepped Up to Help High school students helped perform the ultimate mitzvah. By Makena Mezistrano  4/15/2019 at 2:25pm  Published in the April 2019 issue of Jewish in Seattle Magazine   IMAGE: KIERSTEN ESSENPREIS Rabbi Berry Farkash sighs on the other side

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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 For more information or to discuss special circumstances, contact us at or 410-733-3700.


If you are interested in submitting a blog entry, please be in touch with us at, 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.


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 (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 ( 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 ( 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 (


The 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.


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.