November 20, 2019

Missing by Rabbi Janet Madden

I’ve officiated at many funerals for people whom I’ve known for quite some time. I’ve known many of them through times of deep challenges, We’ve formed relationships and they have become dear to me. I’ve grieved their deaths and kept in touch with their families. I’ve not forgotten them.

But recently, and for the first time, I officiated at the funeral of a longtime close friend. We first met at work, and through the mysterious chemistry that turns what begins as a friendly “hello” in passing into longer conversations and a discovery of shared values, mutual trust and lots of laughter, we cultivated a deep relationship that widened to include our families and even our pets and lasted over a quarter of a century.

When my father died a couple of months ago, and my friend spent an entire day sitting shiva with me, we talked about the deaths of our parents and elders and how those deaths usher us into new understandings. I shared that one of my new understandings of time and how time factors into relationships had to do with realizing that my relationship with my father was the longest relationship of my life. And now, with the death of this dear friend, I’ve been thinking again that with each death of someone close to us, part of our pain is recognizing that we’ve also lost a part of our personal history in losing a person with whom we’ve shared those years. No one will ever know us in the ways that people who knew us for large parts of our lives knew us.

I recently sat with an elderly hospital patient who fits into a category of people that I call “gently demented.” That is, she has a dementia diagnosis but there is nothing unclear or irrational about how or what she communicated. At the time of our visit, she was perseverating, which is an aspect of her dementia. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it, holding on to me to let me know how important it was that I hear what she needed to tell me: “I miss the life I used to have. I miss having a 3-bedroom house. I miss my garden. I miss driving. I miss my husband. I miss going to lunch with friends. I miss going shopping. I miss my privacy. It’s so hard to talk with a roommate listening to everything I say.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone so clearly articulate the expansiveness of grief that comes with life changes that are not of our choosing, that involve the loss of so much that we love. I resonated with every statement she made about what life feels like when all the things that helped to define us in our own minds are stripped away, when the price of living a long life is that we no longer have a home, a garden, the agency to go where we want to go when we want to go, when our beloveds and our friends are no longer present in our lives, when autonomy gives way to what our health and finances dictate.

As I think about my friend, an accomplished professional whose life and work positively impacted untold lives, and whose death was sudden and shocking, I know that some of my grief mirrors the sense of loss that my hospital patient described. I feel that I’m standing on a precipice of loss. I’m aware that the recent deaths of those close to me are harbingers of the future: as my life continues, I will experiences more losses. I can neither predict nor imagine the ways and times in which they will come but I know that they will. Missing is part of my present and it will be a part of my future.

Missing those I love is a state that I share with many, and I find solace in knowing that shared experiences of missing, as in my encounter with my hospital patient, can offer deep and unexpected connections.

And I don’t experience this consciousness of missing as unrelentingly sad.  It’s also an incentive. The knowledge that more losses await urges me to live as fully as I can for as long as I can. It inspires me to seek out and engage in meaning and connections in my work and in my personal life. It reminds me to hold my loved ones close. It prompts me to study, meditate, write, quilt and garden while I can, to seek out beauty and joy, to try new experiences and take some chances. The understanding that life is ever-evolving and that more losses lie before me is a persistent whisper that tells me to not put off things that I want to do and, above all, to not take the present for granted. Knowing that there are no guarantees encourages me to embrace every day and all that I have as precious gifts.

Rabbi Janet Madden earned her PhD in literature from The National Univer-sity of Ireland. A writer and ritualist, she is Rabbi of Providence Saint John’s Health Center (Santa Monica, CA) and Visiting Rabbi of The Oahu Jewish Ohana (Honolulu).

Rabbi Janet Madden

Rabbi Janet Madden


Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to an informal online monthly session, held mnthly. 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.

If you are interested in teaching a session, you can contact us at,, or


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:

March 4: Rabbi Stuart Kelman – Kaddish
April 8: Jewish Trans Day of Remembrance – Jacob Klein
April 29: Rabbi Yonatan Cohen – Disenfranchised Grief
May 27: Rabbi SaraLeya Schley – Alternative Yizkor

If you cannot attend a session, no worries! They are recorded and made available to those registered.

The Taste sessions are done in a webinar format, where the teacher and participants can see each others’ live video feeds. The sessions are moderated, we mute participants, ask them to raise their virtual hands with questions, and call on and unmute participants when appropriate. There is time for questions and discussions during and/or at the end of each program.
Learn from the comfort of your home or office. We use a computer accessed Zoom platform with phone-in options available. It is interactive, and each session is recorded, with access provided to registrants. We’ve been teaching using this model for eight years (more than 300 classes).
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 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, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at


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, and the rest of the 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- taharah and 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

Registration – Advance registration rates are extra-low, but they are only available until February 28th. Register early to get the best rates, and to help us plan.
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 –

Conference Timing 
Noon to 10pm on Sunday
7am to 10 pm on Monday
7am to 1 pm on Tuesday.
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– 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 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

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Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at, 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 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.