September 22, 2018

A Moment In the Dark for Iris

[Editor’s Note: 18 students of the Gamliel Institute, the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum, having successfully completed all courses and requirements as part of the certification process by the Gamliel Institute, participated in, and recently returned from, the first ever Study Mission that was at the heart of the capstone course in the Gamliel program. They studied, visited, learned, taught, met and connected with people and organizations involved in the mitzvot of Kavod Hameit and Nichum Aveilim in New York, Prague, and Israel (Including Tsefat and Jerusalem, among other sites). The study mission was groundbreaking, in that it exposed the Gamliel students to practices internationally, but even more so in that it created a dialogue and initiated relationships between Jews in all these places around the mitzvoth that are shared, though very differently practiced in the details. It is an opening on which to build to create a conversation and a sharing of best practices, learning, and mutual respect, cutting across boundaries of geography, denomination or practice, and time.

This blog posting is one of a series of entries, written by various Gamliel graduates, and presenting their takes and thoughts on various aspects of the trip.   — JB]


The first week of our journey, in New York City, our group was shepherded by the dynamic Rabbi Iris Richman. To me, Iris represents a real New Yorker as seen on TV and in every novel I read as a kid. She efficiently moved our herd of 18 slow moving people on and off the subway, organized our speakers and events, and spent months working out every possible detail on our behalf. One of our last events in NY was a visit to the 9/11 museum, where we had time to wander on our own, followed by a session in one of the classrooms, led by some of the facilitators for the families of victims. At one point in the conversation, Iris shared her own experience on 9/11, and in the months and years that followed.

Fast forward a couple of weeks on our mission trip. It is one of our last days in Israel, and our group is having dinner at the unique “Nalaga’at” Center , which houses a theater and cafe. Most of the 70 employees are deaf, blind, or deaf-blind. In the blackout restaurant, dinner is served by blind wait staff in complete darkness.

Our group is out in the foyer, nervous. We are asked to leave all of our bags, cellphones, watches, and anything else that might give off light in the lockers provided. We meet a couple of people from Minneapolis, equally apprehensive. We select and order our meals, receive our instructions, and then we’re led forward, conga-line style, into the pitch black room. Our waitress slowly leads our group to our table, and one by one helps us to take our seats. I’m so disoriented that I can barely remember how to walk.

Our server takes my right hand and “shows me” my water glass, napkin and silverware. I tiptoe my fingers around the table and figure out I’m sitting at an end seat, Edna across from me. We spill our water, twice. Our server changes our sopping wet tablecloth, replaces our water glasses, napkins, silverware. Twice. I open my eyes as wide as I can, blinking, blinking, and I see absolutely nothing. A moment of panic. A physical sensation that the darkness is enveloping, closing in on me. A feeling of Uncertainty, Vulnerabilty, being knocked off balance. 

In that instant, my mind jumps back to New Yorker Iris telling us about what happened to her on 9/11. In their apartment not far from the Twin Towers, getting ready for the first day of school, Iris and her family were plunged into complete darkness. No electricity and no cell phone reception. No clue of what was going on. Then total blackness. They recited the Shema. Twice.

For them, I wonder, was it a feeling of being Uncertain? Vulnerable?  I imagine something more like Unthinkable Terror.

Pulling me back to where I am sitting at the restaurant, Nalah (our waitress) puts my hand on a cold beer and my table mates and I relax into the experience. I eat my entire dinner with my fingers, as Edna struggles to get food to fork to mouth. I notice how incredibly loud it is; hoots and howls of laughter. We finish dinner and are led out into the light by our server. We tip her generously, collect ourselves and our bags and make our way into the beautiful Yafo evening with a great memory – and perhaps a renewed appreciation for the gift of sight.

But hovering now in corner of my mind are those who experienced terrifying blackness on September 11, 2001. Those for whom that blackness was just the beginning of days and weeks of anguish and agony. Those who have worked their way out of that darkness over months and years. And those who continue to struggle in the darkness.  

The author recently took part in the first Gamliel Institute “Chevrah Kadisha study mission, a 3 week intensive journey to New York, Prague & Israel. She says she is ‘present in body, but mind still catching up.’

 

Rena Boroditsky is the Executive Director of the “>Kavod v'Nichum conferences and at Limmud events in the US & Canada. She recently launched Death Cafe Wnnipeg. She has served in past as a board member of “>Gamliel Institute. Rena is a member of the first graduating class of the Gamliel Institute, having completed the required studies and projects, and she has returned recently from the inaugural Israel Study Mission which is the heart of the sixth course in the Gamliel Institute curriculum, International Perspectives.

 


 

UPCOMING GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

Starting in October:

Chevrah Kadisha: History, Origins, & Evolution (HOE). Tuesdays, 12 online sessions (orientation session Monday October 12th, classes Tuesdays from October 13th to December 29th, 8-9:30 pm EST/5-6:30 pm PST. An examination of the modern Chevrah Kadisha from 1626 in Prague, through history and geography, as imported to Europe and the rest of the world, and brought to the US; with a specific contemporary focus on North America, and how the Chevrah has developed and changed over time up to the present. Studies include text study, and emphasize history, sociology, politics, government, and many other factors.

Winter 2016:   

During the coming Winter semester, the Gamliel Insitute will be offering two courses. Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah (T&S), and Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Practices, & Liturgy [Other than Taharah] (RPL). These courses will begin in January, and will each run for 12 sessions. More information to come, or visit the Gamliel Institute section of the Kavod v’Nichum website.

NEW CLASS TIMES OPTION:

We are considering offering courses mid-day (East Coast time) as a convenience to those who have scheduling issues with the evening times now in use (including those overseas in Israel and other places). This is anticipated to be the same online format and material as the courses that have been offered in past, but at a time that works better for some than the evening (Eastern Standard). If you are interested in this option, please be in touch to let us know: we need to assess the level of interest as we determine whether to offer this option. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Contact us for more information about scholarships, or any other questions. info@jewish-funerals.org or call 410-733-3700.

You can “>jewish-funerals.org/gamreg.

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