May 24, 2019

“Chew” by Carren S. Oler (June 20, 2017)

[Ed. Note: There have accrued over the centuries some folk practices, local beliefs, superstitions, and customs around issues of dying and death in the Jewish world. This poem touches on just one of these that is fairly widespread among those with connections to certain parts of the world. Enjoy. — JB]


For Zayda’s visits from time to time

From a different city,

We children were excited

And wanted to wear our best

To look pretty.

Zayda was a tailor and never far

From needle, thread, and thimble

In the pocket of his ever-present vest

One inside the other, a carefully placed nest.


I rushed to hug him

And wasn’t so nimble

(I was eight) and snagged my sleeve

On the lamp table

Not able to stop my skip and hop.

I was shocked, sure my mother would be mad.

(It was the newest blouse I had!)


“Sh, Sh” Zayda gestured, “Come here.”

And as I came near, he said,


“Chew?” What could be stranger?

But I felt I was in real danger.

So I stood there and chewed.

And in no time my mood

Lifted as he sewed my sleeve

With perfect, even stitches.


And my mother never knew

Or so I thought then….


Sometime later (months? years?)

After my fears abated,

I asked my mother why,

When sewing my sleeve,

Zayda told me to “chew”…

She laughed and wasn’t shy

About the explanation she knew.


“Zayda belongs to the Chevrah Kadisha

And is one of the tailors who sews

Tachrichim (shrouds) on those who have died.

And he says we cannot hide

From the Angel of Death who hovers…

BUT, if he is sewing on one who chews,

It’s not news that such a person lives.

And the Angel of Death is chased away

And cannot stay.”


Years later, as I was starting to sew a button

Back on my then young son’s sleeve,

You can best believe

That the first thing I said to him was,


Carey Oler

Carren S. Oler

Carey Oler

Carren S. Oler, Esq.

Freelance Paralegal; Previously in private law practice with an emphasis on general litigation, family law, dispute resolution, mediation and collaborative law. Retired from legal practice following a breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy at Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.  Currently and gratefully in remission.

Shmira Coordinator: Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington, February 2017 to date; Program provided 246.5 Shomer hours in May 2017. Chevrah Kadisha member at two Maryland synagogues; occasional Taharah trainer.




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.


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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.