Jewish Leader Linda Jum’s Death at 61 Galvanizes Her Chevrah Kadisha
[Editor’s Note: This entry is a bit of an ‘insider’ posting. It is longer than most, and deals with someone who was deeply involved in the Chevrah Kadisha ‘movement’, the group that seeks to reclaim Jewish tradition and practices around the continuum at the end of life for any and all Jews in North America, which Kavod v’Nichum represents. Zichronah livrachah – may her memory be for a blessing.]
Not all of us get to plan our own funeral. Organize our own taharah. Write our own obituary. But Linda C. Jum willed herself from a coma into consciousness in the days before she died on March 9, and rehearsed her exit. Summoning trademark focus, humor and managerial brilliance, Jum directed chevrah kadisha confidants, rabbis, dear friends and loved ones to deliver what she needed for her journey.
>The process helped her tip the balance from fight to surrender. Jum, 61, a Jew of 100 percent Chinese ancestry, fought a courageous, 39-year battle against metastaic brain and breast cancer. Her illness was part of her, yet she famously refused to let it define who she was: Jewish educator, Reconstructionist movement leader, proud co-founder of Camp JRF (the Reconstructionist summer camp in the Pocono Mountains), advocate for Jews from multiracial backgrounds, and longtime supporter of “>Bnai Keshet, in Montclair, NJ.
Some of us in her chevrah kadisha in Montclair were lucky enough to stop whatever else we were doing in our lives then because we knew there would never be anything else more important than being there for Jum in those final moments of her remarkable life. That being with her in those moments was, as she was fond of letting us know, giving her the “peace of mind” she needed to surrender. And in that moment, we became one.
We chanted by her bedside at the hospital and at hospice, and beyond life in the taharah room doing shmirah, at her funeral and burial, and after. Nothing could have been more empowering in its intensity for Bnai Keshet’s chevrah kadisha than following Jum’s instructions. Showering her with love. Bringing her fun one-lasts: Purim, havdalah, a magnificent Adon Olam duet that became part of her funeral, and her favorite chants. She showed her love as her voice was stilled and life left her body by lifting her right hand and touching her heart, and then, she stopped breathing.
“When I woke up the day after Linda died the world seemed flat,” her dear friend Suzanne, of Northhampton, MA, said at Jum's funeral at Bnai Keshet on March 11.
“But don't stay sad,” Rabbi Jeff Eisenstadt told Jum's mourners: “Linda planned all of this – she wanted everyone to really feel the joy of her life, as we are saddened by her physical presence leaving us,” said Eisenstadt, who was Jum's longtime rabbi and friend, with whom she co-founded Camp JRF in 2001, and with whom 10 years later in 2011 made a barter: Jum would make him a leather-backed guitar strap of a rainbow needlepoint design she created in exchange for him officiating at her funeral. Displaying the strap, “She started this guitar strap years ago,” he said. “Then six months ago, when she had six months left to live for the 100th time, she gave it to me. It's special; it's beautiful; it's holy.”
“So how do we remember Linda?” Eisenstadt asked. “In the music our campers sang. Other music and chants from last month, and the past 30 years of her life. And a chant she wanted us to do, 'Ozi v’Zimrat Yah Vayehi li li’shuah – meaning my strength comes from Adonai'. If you are wondering, how do you get through this? Linda would say ‘whatever is godly in your lives right now, grab onto it’.”
Of all her achievements, Jum was most proud of helping found Camp JRF and was honored for a youth initiative she established there. In 2010, she was given the Jewish Reconstructionist Federations Yehudit Award in recognition of her work with the camp and the Reconstructionist youth movement, Noar Hadash. The award seeded money for the Linda C. Jum Fund for Innovative Youth Initiatives, which develops programs in leadership development. Jum spent her life bringing people together, working in the worlds of Jewish education and diversity. She was founding director of the Jewish Multi-Racial Network, and worked for more than 10 years at the Jewish Education Association, which became the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life.
She was an active member of Bnai Keshet's chevrah kadisha since its inception in 2013. Jum's illness and death have galvanized the group, expanding its reach and bringing the chevrah kadisha's diverse aspects closer together. As I stood beside her hospital bed March 5, laughing and crying, Jum said she was “dying for everyone”; she was ready, she said, to plan with Eisenstadt on camera her own funeral, and asked me to get the camera rolling as soon as he arrived. As we waited, she asked me to grab paper and take down her obituary.
Then, a few more things: email obituary to her sister Lori; name her taharah participants; ask Rabbi Elliott to stop by and redo her viddui – her deathbed confession; remind her dear friend Jane to monogram her Hebrew name, Laila Rachel bat Leah, on the outer jacket of the handsewn tachrichim (shrouds) the Bnai Keshet Chevrah Kadisha made for her in 2013; send Lori contact information for a non-Jewish funeral home preferable to Jewish counterparts because she knew the owner and had toured the facility in 2013 with Chevrah Kadisha colleagues and her friend David Zinner, the
Linda Jum, Z”L
Editors's Note: On behalf of all of us at Kavod v'Nichum, I write to wish all who are observing it a Zissen Pesach – a sweet holiday of liberation and Redemption.
For those celebrating Easter, we wish you a happy holiday.
For those celebrating other holidays, or no holiday at all, we wish you well.
A TASTE OF GAMLIEL
Free, with a suggested minimum donation of $36 for all five sessions. The first session (RabbiT’mimah Ickovits) was Sunday February 1st, the second (Dr. Eitan Fishbane) on March 1st, the third (Rabbi Dr. Burton Visotzky) on March 29th.
The fourth session (Rabbi Goldie Milgram) will be on May 20th. All sessions will be recorded and available for (re-)viewing by those who are registered.
Chevrah Kadisha and Spiritual Care Conference
Planning to be in Israel May 5th 2015? If so, the American Kavod v'Nichum and its Gamliel Institute cordially invite you to attend a Chevrah Kadisha and Spiritual Care conference focused on traditional Jewish practices at the end of life.
Kavod v’Nichum Israel-American Kenes
Dignity, Simplicity, Comfort and Spirituality At Life’s End
What: A program of learning and an exchange of information focusing on Chevra Kadisha, Spiritual Care and end of life issues. (Program in English)
Why: To compare and contrast American and Israel end of life practices – funeral and burial planning, tahara, shmira, mourning; to learn from each other, share problems, network, strategize, brainstorm and explore working together.
For Whom: Chevra Kadisha administrators and workers, rabbis and rabbinic students, Israeli spiritual care providers; social workers, medical professionals, Chevra Kadisha students at Ariel University, advocacy groups, members of the national religious community, cemetery managers from kibbutzim, moshavim, civil and state sponsored cemeteries.
Sponsor: The Gamliel Institute of Kavod v’Nichum, an American non-profit organization that provides education and training for Chevra Kadisha groups.
When: Tuesday May 5, 2015
Time: 8:30am-5:00 pm
Where: Jerusalem – Yad Ben Tzvi – Ibn Gabirol Street 14
More Information: Contact Nomi Roth Elbert (firstname.lastname@example.org ) to be put on our mailing list.
To register, click “>http://cts.vresp.com/c/?KavodvNichum/0089f7d0d4/107e580625/423bf9e253)
UPCOMING GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES
Starting in May:
Chevrah Kadisha: Educating, Organizing, & Training. Tuesdays. 12 online sessions. (Orientation session on Monday May 25th, classes start the 26th). 8-9:30 pm EDST. Working with and educating the members of the Chevrah Kadisha, your congregation, the community, other organizations, and the public. Includes undertaking a project that will have practical and real world effect, and will also serve as information and a resource for others. Prerequisites: Successful completion of Gamliel Institute Course 1, 2, or 5.
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