THE IDEAL FOODS TO SERVE THE MOURNER FOR THEIR CONSOLATION MEAL? By Isaac Pollak
What should you serve a mourner at the Consolation meal?
The first indication of a specific food to be served to a mourner is found in Genesis 25:30 where Jacob is found to be boiling lentils (lentils have been found as carbonated remains alongside human habitation approximately 11,000 BCE in Greece and the Middle East) on the day his grandfather Abraham died. Why are mourners served lentils?
Explains the TB BB 16:B (YD 378:9; Gen R.63:14 ) because they are round like a wheel, and mourning/sorrow is like a wheel – it touches everyone sooner or later.
In addition, just as lentils have no “mouth” or opening but are smoothly round, so, too, the mourners have no “mouth” to speak; they are struck with their inability to speak due to their shock and sorrow at having their loved ones die. The feeling of losing a loved one is often the lowest – the most lonely a person will ever be.
This is the reason why mourners do not greet visitors, and visitors should not greet mourners unless the mourner communicates first. It allows the mourner to experience as much or as little “company” as they are able, without actually being alone. Having the mourner make the first move certainly eases the pain for everyone.
The custom evolved to serve round foods (bagels/pita and eggs are the ones I have seen most often in houses of mourning after returning from a funeral, but also black olives, sharp spicy foods, and high octane alcohol in an Iraqi /Kurdistani house of mourning) to symbolize the cyclical and continuous nature of life.
Eggs are often used these days for this purpose, as the egg is the only food that hardens more the longer it is cooked, and symbolizes that one must learn to steel oneself and be resilient when death occurs. The eggshell is fragile so perhaps the message is that while we are fragile we must also be resilient. In addition, eggs are a symbol of rebirth; indicating the cyclical nature of life. The egg is also completely sealed and has no opening, similar to the lentil. Some have the tradition that the egg is shelled by others and not by the mourner.
The tradition also developed that whatever round food is served is passed from one mourner to the next as a sign of mutual grief based on Lamentations 1:17, “Zion stretches forth her hand.”
(I find this to be in startling contrast to the tradition of not passing the shovel hand to hand while filling the grave; rather, the shovel is put down and the next person picks it up; perhaps the death of a loved one is unique to each person but the grief of losing that person is a common one.)
Another aspect of the condolence meal is that it is the second formal expression of consolation. The first is the parallel rows of friends and relatives through which the bereaved walks through as they depart the graveside. That is a silent tribute, but it is eloquent testimony that we share the mourner’s anguish. The second stage of condolence takes us one step closer to the mourner in his state of misery; we move from the role of spectator to that of participant, from sentiment to service. We bring the mourner the sustenance of life, figuratively and literally. The next step is the Shiva visitation; it’s time for the beginning of the mourners remerging into society and perhaps verbalizing their feelings of loss.
Just to end on a positive note, I will quote Psalm 30:11; “you have turned for me my mourning into dancing, you have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.” Mourning turns into joy. May it be so.
Isaac Pollak is President and CEO of an international marketing business for almost 4 decades at this point. He holds graduate degrees in Marketing, Industrial Psychology, Art History, and Jewish Material Culture from City College, LIU, JTS, and Columbia University. He has been a student in the Gamliel Institute, and serves as a consultant to the institution. He has been the rosh/head of a Chevrah Kadisha on the upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC, for over 3 decades, and is an avid collector of Chevrah Kadisha material cultural items, having several hundred in his own collection. He serves as chairperson of the Acquisition Committee for Traditional Material Culture at the Jewish Museum in NYC. Born and raised in NYC, married, with 3 children and 5 grandchildren (and more soon!).
Isaac has written for Expired And Inspired multiple times over the years, contributing a wide variety of entries, many scholarly and detailed with sources on history and tradition.
Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session, held monthly. On the third THURSDAY of each month, different person(s) will offer a short teaching or share some thoughts on a topic of interest to them, and those who are online will have a chance to respond, share their own stories and information, and build our Gamliel Institute community connections. This initiative is being headed up by Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. You should receive email reminders monthly. The next scheduled session of the Gamliel Café is March 15th with a discussion led by Dan Fendel.
Taste of Gamliel Series
Register now for our 2018 series, Your’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone: Jewish Practices of Remembrance. The series features Rabbi Stuart Kelman, Rabbi SaraLeya Schley, Maharat Victoria Sutton, Rabbi Yonatan Cohen, and Jacob Klein of Keshet. They will be discussing topics such as Sephardic Customs, Understanding the Mourners Kaddish, an Alternative Yizkor Service, Disenfranchised Grief, and Trans Day of Remembrance, all relating to remembrance and memory.
The series began Sunday evening, February 4, and will continue on Sunday evenings, generally one session per month, at 8 PM Eastern time and 5 PM Pacific time. Each session runs approximately 90 minutes. Upcoming sessions are:
April 8: Jewish Trans Day of Remembrance – Jacob Klein
April 29: Disengranchised Grief – Rabbi Yonatan Cohen
May 27: An Alternative Yizkor Service – Rabbi SaraLeya Schley
If you cannot attend a session, no worries! They are recorded and made available to those registered.
Registration for Taste of Gamliel is mandatory to access the sessions. The sessions are free, but there is a suggested minimum donation of $36 for the entire series.
Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions. To register, click here: register.
Gamliel Institute Course 1
Chevrah Kadisha: History, Origins, & Evolution
This course will begin April 3rd and run for 12 weeks. Register now at https://www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. If you want to know how the Chevrah Kadisha developed and why we do what we do today, this is for you!
Gamliel Continuing Education Courses
Gamliel students should be on the lookout for information on a series of Gamliel Continuing Education Courses, advanced sessions focusing in on different topics. These will be in groups of three sessions each quarter (three consecutive weeks), with different topics addressed in each series. The goal is to look at these topics in more depth than possible during the core courses. The first course took place in Fall 2017, focusing on Psalms.
The next course will be April 25, May 2nd and May 9th, and will look at death as seen in the Zohar, taught by Beth Huppin.
Registration is required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Contact us for information, by email email@example.com, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/.
16th annual Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference and Gamliel Day of Learning
Mark your calendar and hold the dates! June 3-5, 2018, in the Washington D.C. area.
Click here to register
Location – The conference will be at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Maryland (just north of Washington, DC)
Dates and Times – The main part of the conference will be from noon on Sunday June 3 to 1pm on Tuesday June 5, 2018. There will be tours and hands-on workshops on Sunday morning.
The Gamliel Day of Learning will be from Tuesday at 2pm through Wednesday at noon. You will not want to miss this – we have arranged for Erica Brown to teach at this event on Tuesday – this day of learning is going to be fantastic!
Who Should Attend? Consider attending the conference if you:
- are interested in the fields of community organizing, consumer advocacy, bikkur cholim, chaplaincy,rabbinic texts, thanatology, hospice care, grief therapy, funeral direction, cemetery management, and legacy planning
- recognize the importance of liturgy and ritual in ensuring that the spiritual dimension of the end-of-life continuum is appreciated, and that the work of the Chevrah Kadisha is done with full regard for the respect and dignity of all involved
- want to learn more about the entire end-of-life continuum – dealing with life-threatening illness, legacy and preparation of ethical wills, preparing for death and at the time of death, care for the body- taharahand shmirah, care for relatives and friends, funeral and burial, mourning, grieving, remembering and providing comfort – with underlying themes of communal obligation, care for the poor and elderly, consumer protection, and Jewish continuity.
- believe it is essential to shift the culture surrounding continuum-of-life issues in the Jewish community – from an attitude of denial and neglect around death, to a more open attitude towards death that includes increasing awareness, acceptance, and healthy integration into family and community life.
- want to participate in the development of a strong Jewish corps of professionals and volunteers to become communal leaders who work to inspire, support, organize, teach, and advocate for the full range of Chevrah Kadisha work in synagogues and communities.
Workshop Leaders – If you are interested, or know someone else who might be interested in leading a workshop, suggest it to us with a short paragraph of explanation – send to info@Jewish-funerals.org
Registration – Registration is open now.
Organization Pricing – is available if three or more members of an organization are attending the whole conference and the organization has paid membership dues of $180. You can cover the cost of organizational membership right on the registration form. Even if you don’t have three members attending the conference, we appreciate your organization’s support as a member.
Books – This year you can pre-order and pre-pay for books right on the registration form.
Exhibits – If you, or someone you know, would like to exhibit at the conference, let us know by sending us an email – info@Jewish-funerals.org
Meals – In addition to Sunday brunch, we provide six supervised Kosher meals as part of the conference registration. Please let us know if you have allergies or special dietary needs.
Flights – Many cities have direct flights to National (DCA), Baltimore Washington (BWI) and Dulles (IAD).
Ground Transport – Direct connections to the Metro are available from National Airport. We’ll update the website mid-January with additional ground transportation options.
Hotel – We have negotiated a great hotel rate at American Inn. Contact them at 301-656-9300 and give them group booking code KNG or email or phone our hotel contact Minoli Minoli.Muhandiramge@baywoodhotels.com who is at extension 111. Our group rate is $139 plus 13% tax per room per night for singles or doubles. There are a limited number of doubles.
Home Hospitality – will be available. Let us know if you are interested.
Shabbat – If you would like to be connected to a family for Shabbat dinner, home hospitality, and synagogue services, let us know.
Refunds: 90% of the registration fee will be refunded if you cancel in writing before May 1; 80% before May 15; 50% May 15 or later, only if you have a really good excuse!
Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the annual conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Continuing Education courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.
You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD 21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.
You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).
If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.
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If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.email@example.com. We are always interested in original unpublished materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.