October 21, 2018

Learning to Comfort, Learning to Do

As I’ve read the recent entries on this blog, I’ve been struck that something like this would never have existed a generation ago. And I don’t mean the social media aspect but the subject matter: the topic of death was not out in the open until recently.

Death in general, and the Jewish traditions around it in particular, began coming out of the closet in the latter part of the 20th century, through such pioneering works as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s “On Death and Dying”; Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s “The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning”; and Rabbi Arnold Goodman’s “A Plain Pine Box.” These books and others helped spark a revival of interest in Jewish traditional practices around end-of-life matters.

More recently, this work has been led by an organization called “>KvN is the educational resource for Chevrah Kadisha (Holy Society) groups throughout North America. It has a comprehensive website (“>Gamliel Institute offers a program of online interactive classes at an advanced level, covering a range of areas of interest to anyone involved in Chevrah Kadisha work, from the origins and evolution of the Chevrah Kadisha movement, to the nitty-gritty of Taharah (ritual purification) and Shmirah (guarding); from the work of organizing and educating our communities, to the practice and theory of comforting the mourner; as well as study of the rituals related to all these matters, and a travel-educational study program to New York, Prague, and Israel to get a broader perspective on past and current practice internationally.

This is not just abstract theory. Gamliel students have been inspired by our learning to take the movement forward. My own work since getting involved with Gamliel and KvN in 2009 has included: organizing a Chevrah Kadisha in my own Reform congregation; spearheading the creation of a Consortium for the dozen or so Chevrah groups in the Oakland/Berkeley area so we can educate and support each other and our communities; becoming a Spiritual Care volunteer at a local hospital; and beginning work toward creating a Nechama branch within my synagogue’s Caring Community/Chevrah Kadisha structure.

I urge any of this blog’s readers who want to broaden their education about Jewish end-of-life traditions to check out the Gamliel Institute, which will be offering the Course: Chevrah Kadisha – Origins & Evolution this year from October 14th to December 30th (with an introductory logistics session on October 7th). This course focuses on an in-depth study of the origins and history of the Chevrah Kadisha, the Holy Society that deals with the sacred tasks surrounding practical and ritual preparations of the deceased person for a Jewish funeral. The course further examines how the institution and role of the Chevrah Kadisha has evolved over the centuries and in different localities into the modern day Chevrah Kadisha.  For more information, go to Dan Fendel is men’s chair and co-founder of the Chevrah Kadisha in his own congregation, Temple Sinai (Reform; Oakland), and has been a member of the Chevrah Kadisha of Beth Jacob Congregation (Orthodox; Oakland) for more than 10 years. He was in the first cohort of the Gamliel Institute, which was created in 2010 to train leaders throughout the world in the work of the Chevrah Kadisha. He is also coauthor, with Rabbi Stuart Kelman, of the Expanded Third Edition of the taharah manual, “>Gamliel Institute work. He is a student in the “>Gamliel Institute.

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSE: Chevrah Kadisha – Origins & Evolution

We want to acquaint you with the work of the “>Gamliel Institute is the leadership-training arm established by “>www.jewish-funerals.org) on issues related to Jewish end-of-life practices, and offers community and synagogue trainings and educational programs. In addition, Kavod v’Nichum holds annual conferences that focus on issues and concerns dealing with the topics of Jewish death, mourning, burial, and remembrance, including the work of the Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish practices from serious illness to death and mourning, as well as Jewish cemetery operation and maintenance.

The Gamliel Institute offers a program of online, interactive classes at an advanced level. The Gamliel Institute will be offering Course 1 (or 6): Chevrah Kadisha – Origins and Evolution – to begin October 14, 2014 (with an introductory logistics session on October 7). Course sessions will be on Tuesday evenings. This course is an in-depth study of the origins and history of the Chevrah Kadisha, the Holy Society that deals with the sacred tasks surrounding practical and ritual preparations of the deceased person for a Jewish funeral. The course further examines how the institution and role of the Chevrah Kadisha has evolved over the centuries and in different localities into the modern day.

Are you interested in taking this course? If so, please be in touch with any of us with questions, or sign up for the course at