Memorial candles

Disenfranchised Grief at Yizkor by Karen B. Kaplan


[Ed. Note: I chose to publish this entry in the blog for the week leading up to Yom Kippur because the Yizkor (Memorial) service on Yom Kippur is so often a major focus in many communities. This article speaks to how memory may be fraught, and not always what we might picture. — JB]

Whether it is Yizkor or just an ordinary service, the prayers before reciting the Kaddish can make some grievers feel even more rotten instead of better. What if a mother or father was not particularly one for whom “we recall the joy of their companionship”? What if “their memory” does not exactly bring “strength and blessing?” I remember in rabbinic school wrestling with the meaning of the Fifth Commandment for those who have or did have abusive parents. How can one be good to oneself, which is a mitzvah, yet  honor such a parent?

For grievers of such parents, the idea of grieving feels paradoxical. It seems straightforward enough and certainly painful enough to grieve a parent whose memories of their goodness sustains you. But a neglectful or downright hurtful mother or father elicits enough loads of guilt and anger to go round. And sadness is more about the protection or help or advice or love that parent did not provide; about the parent you never had. Thus, condolences and standard prayers before the Kaddish hardly bring comfort. Instead they are a jarring reminder of how your parent shortchanged you.

The definition a health professional gives to grieving is “reaction to the loss.” That is a broad enough definition to cover all situations. Still, how to start going about it is much more puzzling to a mourner of troubled parents. What does it mean to sit shiva for such a parent? What does it mean to recite the Kaddish for them? To me, the prepositon “for” suggests doing a ritual or prayer as an act of goodness, appreciation and love. And of course we use the expression “grieving for” so-and-so.

It seems odd to say under such circumstances, that “I am grieving for my mother.” I think part of successful grieving is portraying the process to oneself as honestly and accurately as possible. Otherwise you will hinder  the purpose of grieving in the first place, which is to allow all the feelings, great and small, peaceful and turbulent, joyful and gloomy, an open path for release. Somehow saying “grieving for” sounds like the tears are ready to roll at almost any provocation and that you miss them if not for how they were at the time of their passing, then at least for how they were in better days.

I think honesty in how we use language is one step in figuring out and expressing how we really feel, which is what healthy grieving is all about. As a symbolic baby step towards this goal, I am inventing a new expression for those who did not have parents who could be caring and be there for you:

“I am grieving against my mother.”

Methinks I have found a solution for us unconventional grievers. Let me know if the sentence below helps to express to yourself how you really feel about that louse. Does saying it this way give you permission to stop censoring those less socially acceptable emotions?

“I am grieving against my father.”

Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died  (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. She has also recently published a collection of science fiction stories, Curiosity Seekers (Createspace Independent Publishing, 2017). She has submitted multiple entries published in Expired And Inspired.

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan photo

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 5, Chevrah Kadisha: Ritual, Liturgy, & Practice (Other than Taharah & Shmirah), online, afternoons/evenings, in the Winter semester, starting roughly in January, 2018. This is the core course focusing on ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means (for everything other than Taharah and Shmirah, which are covered in course 2).

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

Information on attending the course preview, the online orientation, and the course will be announced and sent to those registered. Register or contact us for more information.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session on the 3rd Wednedsays of most months. Each month, a different person 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 October 18th.

If you are interested in teaching for a session, you can contact us at j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Graduate Courses

Graduates of the Gamliel Institute, and Gamliel students who have completed three or more Gamliel Institute courses should be on the lookout for information on a series of “Gamliel Graduate’ 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. We plan to begin this Fall, in October and November. The first series will be on Psalms. Registration will be required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for the three sessions. Heading this intiative is the dynamic duo of Rena Boroditsky and Rick Light. Contact us –  register at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/, or email info@jewish-funerals.org.

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DONATIONS

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 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 Gracuates 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/).

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MORE INFORMATION

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 info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.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.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

____________________

SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. 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.

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Mourning girl

We Are All Mourners Now and Again by Rabbi Janet Madden


During the burning heat of summer, between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av— the saddest day of the Jewish calendar—Jews remember and mourn the Romans’ breach of the walls of Jerusalem, the sacking of the city and the destruction of the Second Temple. And we remember so much more: throughout history, the 9th of Av is the date on which we commemorate a series of profound Jewish losses.

 

We Are All Mourners

We Are All Mourners

This time of set mourning on the Hebrew calendar makes the Three Weeks a period of communal observance that is both specific and inclusive. It’s different from personal observances of Yahrzeits, the anniversaries of the deaths of beloved family members, or the four Yizkor services that provide public opportunities each year for mourning by those in our communities who have experienced bereavements. The Three Weeks, and especially their culmination, Tisha B’Av, mark specific traumatic experiences that resonate deeply within our collective Jewish historical consciousness. For me, moving mindfully through the Three Weeks is an annual reliving of mourning that tethers my mind and heart to Judaism in very particular ways.

 

I find deep comfort and meaning in communal mourning. When I am observing a Yarzheit, I feel set apart; my heart aches with the reminder of my personal loss even though I am saying Kaddish within the embrace of a loving community. It’s not that my heart aches less when we chant the Book of Lamentations—it’s that I am experiencing a different kind of loss. My heart aches differently. When we sit together on the floor and chant a text that is illuminated by a flashlight, we establish a special, intimate bond of shared grief with those who sit with us and with the entire Jewish community, past and present. For me, collectively connecting to our shared sadness reminds me that I am never alone.

Rabbi Janet Madden PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute.

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden

[Ed. Note: Rabbi Janet Madden has agreed to submit a series of entries for Expired And Inspired – watch for them to appear fairly regularly. — JB]

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017. This is the core course focusing on Taharah and Shmirah ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free preview/overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. You are welcome to join us to decide if this course is one in which you would like to enroll. Contact info@jewish-funerals.org or  j.blair@jewish-funerals.org for information on how to connect to the preview webinar.

There will be an orientation session on how to use the platform and access the materials on Monday, September 4th, 2017, at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST online. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

____________________

DONATIONS:

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 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 Gracuates 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/).

___________

MORE INFORMATION

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 info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.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.

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

____________________

SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original 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.

_____________________

I Grieve for the Man Who’ll Never Return


His face peered out this week from every television set in
the United States. It was impossible to escape him. It was impossible to stop
looking at him. My heart ached, a real heartache. This time, I couldn’t stop
the tears.

Even I’m allowed. So what if I’m a cynical journalist who,
in a career spanning over 30 years, covered wars, earthquakes, terrorist
attacks and grieving families? I always tried to block emotions and hide behind
my mask of professionalism.

Last Saturday morning, the mask broke.

I stand next to the enormous landing strip at Cape Canaveral,
exactly three minutes before the anticipated landing, waiting to hear a pair of
sonic booms signifying the space shuttle Columbia’s landing approach.

Standing very near me are Rona and the children. I know
they’re there behind the wall, but I can’t see them. Since the Challenger
disaster in 1986, NASA makes sure to separate the families of the astronauts
from the journalists during takeoffs and landings in the event of a disaster.

When the huge NASA digital clock races toward the zero mark,
the anticipated landing time, I think of the nerve-wracking moments Rona and
the children must be going through in anticipation of their happy reunion with
Ilan.

They’re there, in the same VIP room through which they viewed
the launch 16 days ago. They held hands in excitement and roared as if they
wanted to help the shuttle gather energy to make it safely to space.

“I wasn’t scared even for a second. I knew everything would
be OK,” Rona told me an hour after the launch. “I know Ilan smiled happily in
the shuttle all the way to space, and I was happy with him for the realization
of his life’s dream.”

Only 5-year-old Noa shouted, “I lost my daddy,” during the
launch. During their last meeting, while hugging her father, Noa said that the
shuttle would explode, and Ilan reassured her with a smile: “That only happens
in movies.”

Noa was just an infant when Ilan arrived with his family in
the United States four and a half years ago. The family settled down in a house
in the town of Clearwater, Texas, and Ilan left for his new workplace at the Johnson
Space Center in Houston.

I soon flew to Houston to interview the first Israeli
astronaut for the daily newspaper, Ma’ariv. At our first meeting, I still saw
him as Col. Ramon, the legendary fighter pilot, secret bomber of the Osirak
nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, a brave pilot who risked his life in the Yom
Kippur War in 1973 and the Lebanon War in 1982.

During subsequent years of one-on-one interviews and many
more phone conversations, however, the boundary between the journalist and the
colonel fell. Behind the uniform I discovered a beautiful man, pleasant,
intelligent and brave. The kind you’d like your daughter to meet. The kind
you’d be proud to have as your friend.

Like everyone else, I wrote about Ramon’s biography: his
commitment to Shabbat and kashrut while on the space shuttle, and the personal
items he took with him to space — the little Holocaust Torah scroll, his
college pennant and a sketch of Earth as imagined by a teenage Holocaust
victim.

I flew back to Houston to interview Ilan several more times.
While doing so, I learned several fascinating things about the U.S. space
program, as well.

But even more importantly, I learned about the character of
Ilan Ramon: serious, intense, always prepared and organized, diligent about
doing his homework, never one to trust luck.

He arrived in Houston as an experienced fighter pilot, but
quickly learned that no one expected him to fly the shuttle and bomb the moon.
He needed to forget that, swallow his pride and work the many science
experiments assigned to him. Ilan studied his scientific missions seriously,
and especially took pride in those from his alma mater, Tel Aviv University.

Though he’d originally come to NASA as a payload specialist,
he was quickly transformed into an astronaut in every sense of the word,
familiar with all the systems and able to perform every possible mission. NASA
people couldn’t get enough of him. I couldn’t either.

I’d pestered Ilan more than once with the question that
bothered me most of all: If he was afraid of an accident occurring in space. At
first, he tried to explain to me that after his combat experience, including
two injuries, he wasn’t afraid of anything anymore. When I continued my
pestering, he merely smiled.

As the years went by, I learned what an optimist Ilan Ramon
was. Maybe the biggest optimist I’d ever met. Before going into space,
astronauts customarily prepare their wills. Ilan didn’t.

I asked him about everything. I even asked him about sex in
space. Ilan answered with a smile that there are only two things that aren’t
discussed at NASA — sex and death.

What’s the thing that scares him most of all? Disappointing
the scientists in whose name he’d gone out to space. “One wrong move on my
part could destroy an experiment 20 years in the making,” Ilan told me.

Very few journalists came to see the Columbia land on
Saturday morning. Only three Israeli journalists were there.

The launch was supposed to be the dangerous and exciting
part; the landing a matter of routine. But having accompanied Ilan for four and
a half years, I came to Cape Canaveral to close a personal circle with him.

At the communications center at the Kennedy Center, I follow
the astronauts on the closed-circuit television monitor making final
preparations. They are wearing their jumpsuits as Houston gives approval for
landing. “Go,” the cry of the NASA crew sounds. The time is 8:10 a.m.

We walk outside toward the landing strip. The weather is
great and the visibility perfect. It was supposed to be a good conclusion to a
perfect space mission.

I stand on the runway as the Columbia starts its approach to
Earth in the skies above Australia. The entrance into the atmosphere is over
Hawaii, the entrance to the continental United States is San Francisco Bay. It
was supposed to be a very quick and smooth flight from West Coast to East
Coast.

At Cape Canaveral, the emergency and evacuation crews
deployed to the landing strip, including two portable labs for monitoring and
sterilizing the outer envelope of the shuttle from remnants of hazardous
materials. A military helicopter with a guard armed with a machine gun hovers
over the runway. Medical crews stand ready to attend to the astronauts
immediately upon their arrival.

Every few minutes, a Grumman G-2 jet plane flies over the
runway, its characteristics similar to that of the Columbia. It tests the wind
direction and the readiness of the landing strip.

Everything is ready for landing. Even the stairs are being
brought to the side of the landing strip for the astronauts to descend from the
parked shuttle.

On the runway, the digital NASA clock shows three minutes to
landing. I wait for those twin sonic booms and hear nothing. I wait to see the
shuttle glide toward the landing strip but see nothing.

The giant clock continues to race too quickly toward the
zero mark, and three NASA veterans look at each other apprehensively.

No one yells. No one cries. We just stand there, shocked and
hurting and realizing that something terrible has happened.

Through loudspeakers, the journalists are requested to
return to the bus for the short ride to the communications room. The large
clock is already showing a three-minute delay. It could happen in a regular
United or American Airlines commercial flight but not at NASA.

The Columbia isn’t late. She’s gone. Ilan Ramon won’t be
coming back.

He remains in the heavens.


Yitzhak Ben-Horin is the Washington correspondent for Ma’ariv newspaper.

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