What Touched Me
[Ed. Note: On June 5th, 2016, at the 14th annual Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, the Gamliel Institute, the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum, celebrated the graduation of the first class of graduates of the Gamliel Institute course of studies. A number of those students also completed a sixth course that had as its centerpiece a study mission, including travel to New York, Prague, and Israel, and engagement with others involved in this work, and study of relevant materials, artifacts, texts, and locations. A number of those who had participated on the study mission spoke about their experiences. The following is, more or less, what was said as the last of those comments. — JB]
Good evening. At this point, you have heard some of the highlights that other graduates have expressed from the trip we took. My fellow travelers have spoken of visits to cemeteries, shared poetry about places we saw, described encounters with art and music, read about sensitive experiences we had, and shed light on some of the emotional highs. All of these, and the experiences, the opportunities to deepen learning and gain understanding, the chance to touch and be engaged with our history and heritage, and so much more, were amazing and incredible gifts that we received throughout the course of this study mission.
But rather than focus on all of these things – to speak of places or things, I have chosen to offer to you tonight something somewhat more ephemeral. Rather than seek to paint a picture in words of places, things, or experiences, I want to try to share with you something less tangible; a feeling. I don’t know that I can do it justice, but I will try.
As we traveled, every place we went, we met people. People we had not known, and would not otherwise likely meet. People, in many cases, who had little in common with our day to day lives. From Orthodox women to academics to social workers, from Eastern European Jews to secular Israelis to religious New Yorkers, from Americans and Canadians to ex-pats to sabras, and everything in between. And in every case we found a bond with them. All of them knew what we do, what we undertake. Not all of them do the sacred work with which we are engaged, but all of them shared a sense of the holiness of it.
That shared awareness created immediate connection and rapport. It was as if a window had opened on each soul, and it was possible to sense the light of the divine spark animating each person. It was a sense of recognition of something, something shared in each other.
We saw this on the faces and in the eyes of the men who showed us their Taharah rooms, the women from the Chevrah Kadisha in Tzefat who shared their experiences, and the officers in the IDF who brought us into their holy of holies and invited us to feel the sense of entering into a sacred space.
But for me, it didn’t stop there. It was also true that I saw the same thing as I looked around me at those with whom I was traveling. Their passion, commitment, and dedication to the sacred work we undertake was palpable. Over and over, with each one, I was struck again and again, at how much we share in common, how connected we are, and just how special a group we are. I know that this is true not only of my fellow travelers, but of all who engage in this holy work, the work of Shmirah and of the Chevrah Kadisha.
And so I was left with a feeling. A feeling of interconnection, of common purpose, and of shared vision. I felt, and feel, privileged and fortunate to have come to know all of these people. This study mission offered so much on so many levels, but in bringing forth this feeling it exceeded any possible hopes or expectations I could ever have imagined. It was, quite literally, a source of uplift and joy, absolutely life-affirming, even as we spoke of and focused on death, dying, and the deceased.
I cannot express my gratitude for the opportunity to meet others with whom we share a bond, to learn from and study with these people, to experience all that we did together, and the myriad gifts it all proved to be.
None of this would have happened without the Gamliel Institute, the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum. The Gamliel Institute is an absolutely unparalleled organization, offering incomparable teaching, and attracting incredible and amazing people. This mission trip was truly a capstone, pulling all of it together in a way that felt deeply sacred and holy. May many others have the same opportunity to find this feeling through this organization and the people associated with it. Ken Yehi ratzon (may it be G-d’s will).
Rabbi Joe Blair is the editor of Expired And Inspired, the Kavod v’Nichum Blog. You can find more about him in the link to the right of this post titled ‘About the Author’.
GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES
Please Tell Anyone Who May Be Interested!
Gamliel Institute Course 5, Chevrah Kadisha Ritual, Practices, & Liturgy (RPL) will be offered over twelve weeks from September 6th, 2016 to November 22nd 2016. There will be an orientation session on September 5th for those unfamiliar with the online course platform used, and/or who have not used an online webinar/class presentation tool in past.
The focus of this course is on practices and all ritual and liturgy (excluding Taharah & Shmirah, which are covered in Course 2). This deals specifically with ritual and practice towards and at the end of life, the moment of death, preparation for the funeral, the funeral, and rituals of mourning and remembrance. This course also includes modules dealing with Funeral Homes and Cemeteries.
There is no prerequisite for this course; you are welcome to take it with no prior knowledge or experience. Please register, note it on your calendar, and plan to attend. Please note that there are registration discounts available for three or more persons from the same organization, and for clergy and students. There are also some scholarship funds available on a need basis.
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