May 20, 2019

The 15th Annual Kavod v’Nichum Conference by Rabbi Joe Blair

Wow. I have just returned from the Kavod v’Nichum (KVN) Conference, held this year over June 18-20 in San Rafael, California. Other than physically exhausted, I am exhilarated, energized, and enthused. There was so much offered, so many opportunities to learn, to network, to compare notes, and to socialize with others who engage with the holy work we do. It was truly an amazing and wonderful event (just as the other KVN conferences I have attended have been). This one, however, seems to have surpassed others (although I have to admit that perhaps that is due my less-than-perfect memory). 😉

Kavod v'Nichum - Honor & Comfort

Kavod v’Nichum – Honor & Comfort

Who came?

One hundred and forty-seven people gathered to talk about supporting members of their own communities through offering education, training, comfort, honoring the dead, performing rituals and rites, being present, providing final resting places for the dead and places for the living to visit, remember, and honor them. Obviously, this is a self-selected group that share a passion, but all the same, by almost any measure, this was a very special cadre, and I was honored and proud to be among them.

What Did They Talk About?

Conference sessions (summaries of the topics only – many of these topics had several sessions that presented different aspects) included cemetery record keeping; emotional responses to Taharah; possible concerns raised in gender-fluid and transgender situations; cemetery expansion; the journey of the soul and concepts of reincarnation in Judaism; the End of Life Option Act; infection control in Taharah; Green burial; Vidui; extensions to Taharah; cemetery restoration; ways to talk about death; reviving rituals with a feminine focus; using stories and drashot; liturgy and text study; Shmirah; approaches to identify, protect and preserve cemeteries; providing better deaths; the impact of cremation; using animation to educate about death; and models for providing community education.

There were also visits to two different cemeteries, and an intensive presentation on how to start and manage a community Funeral home, as well as discussions on both home Taharah and home funerals.

Gamliel Institute Day of Learning

Students of the Gamliel Institute had the opportunity to stay on for an additional Day of Learning. The three sessions included there were largely text-based, and looked at the figure and legacy of Rabban Gamliel; the Kohen Gadol and Olam Habah in the Zohar; and an examination of pre-1917 Love, Death and Community in Russian/Pale of Settlement Jewry.

And this was only the formal presentations! The informal networking and conversations were incredibly rich and diverse.

Who Spoke?

Presenters, other than the Gamliel Institute Faculty/Staff and students, and the Kavod v’Nichum Board members included: Dr. Patrick Arbore, Deena Aronoff, Shirley Barnett, Dan Doernberg, Samantha Feld, Harley Felstein, Rabbi Stacey Friedman, Rabbi Dr. Rafael Goldstein, Lynn Greenhough, Dr. Dawn Gross, Beth Huppin, Howard jampolsky, Colin Joseph, Dara Kosberg, Rabbi Manachem Landa, Rabbi Michael Lezak, Rev. Rosemary Lloyd, Cantor David Margules, Steve Matles, Charlie Meyers, Ruth Minka, Bill Pechet, Rabbi-Cantor Elana Rosen-Brown, Lori Salberg, Sam Salkin, Rabbi SaraLeya Schley, Jeremy Shuback, Cathy Steirn, Betty Rose Webne, Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, Steven J. Zipperstein, and Dr. Jessica Zitter.


I am incredibly grateful to all of them, as well as to the students, staff, and board members who also presented, and who each gave of their time to make this such an amazing and wonderful event. [The full list will be made available in the conference program brochure online at] A special shout out to the volunteers in planning and executing the conference program – it was Fabulous!

Recognition Evening Program

One of the evening programs was an opportunity to honor Rabbi Stuart Kelman for his work in founding Kavod v’Nichum, and establishing the Gamliel Institute. We recognized his impact as the Chair and as a board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and his ongoing leadership and direction as the Dean of the Gamliel Institute. He has been an educator par excellence, central in the efforts to reclaim the mitzvot of Taharah and Shmirah, and to re-establish the Chevrah Kadisha as a significant aspect of Jewish life and death across the Jewish world.

As part of this recognition, we were proud to welcome fourteen new graduates of the Gamliel Institute, with the second cohort, bringing the total to twenty-eight at this time. Those awarded the Gamliel Institute Certificate connoting advanced studies in Chevrah Kadisha work include: Deborah Brown, Auria Bernace Gonzalez, Blanca Ruth Hernandez, Gloria Esther “Doris” Rivera, Ingrid Altagracia Mercedes, Rafael Ortiz, Wilfredo Guerrero, Michelle Siegel, Theresa Bates, Isaac Pollak, Sally Shannon, Fred Helms, Rabbi Eva Sax-Bolder, and Zoe Van Raan. Mazal tov to each of them!

They join the first cohort: Kohenet Ellie Barbarash, Jean Berman, Robin Black, Rabbi Joe Blair, Rena Boroditsky, Nancy Dotti, Dan Fendel, Rabbi Me’irah Iliinsky, Rick Light, Rabbi Myrna Matsa Laura Rocco, Edna Stewart, Kerry Swartz, and Vickie Weitzenhofer.

What was missing?  YOU!

I honestly can’t say enough about how excellent it all was. I suppose I could complain about the heat wave that hit while we were there, but even that didn’t dampen spirits or limit how terrific the entire event was.

I have to say that personally, though I loved most of the sessions and the topics presented, it was the people – the comraderie, the warmth, the sense of community among those present – that made this event so very special for me.

If you have been ‘on the fence’ about attending the conference, all I can say is “go!” It is worth it.

Next year, the conference will be in the Washington DC area. We don’t have the specific dates locked in yet, but try to block out time in June and plan to attend now. You will be glad you did.

Rabbi Joe Blair serves two small congregations in the central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Bridgewater College, and serves as webmaster and coordinator for Jewish Values Online. He studied at, and was one of the first group of graduates from the Gamliel Institute. He serves as a staff and board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and as Dean of Administration for the Gamliel Institute. He is the editor of the Kavod v’Nichum blog, Expired and Inspired, which appears on the L.A. Jewish Journal blogs website. He is involved in several Chevrot Kadisha.

Rabbi Joe Blair

Rabbi Joe Blair




The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017.


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. Contact or for information on how to connect to the preview.

There will be an orientation session on Monday, September 4th, 2017. This session will go over use of the online platform and the online course materials system. Register or contact us for more information.

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


You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at 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, or phone at 410-733-3700.



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 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 (



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

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, and for information on the Gamliel Institute 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 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.