November 15, 2019

Guarding the Body of a Friend by Kohenet Ellie Barbarash

Shomer/et - Guarding

I left for the airport as soon as I got the call. My friend Yosefa, a brilliant tattoo artist, educator, and fellow Kohenet, was on her deathbed, dying of a brain tumor. I booked the next flight from Philadelphia to Seattle in time to do shemirah, to guard her body and soul after her death.

Hours later, after a long plane ride and a taxi ride that felt even longer, I came to a suburban house with candles softly glowing on the porch, and a mezuzah on the door. It was past four in the morning.

I removed my shoes and went upstairs to Yosefa’s bedroom, where two other women we knew through the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute were reading psalms aloud, wrapped head to toe in blankets to warm themselves against the cold air flowing in to keep Yosefa’s body cold. The two had been waiting all night, and had given up hope of my coming. We shared joyful whispered hellos, and then they left to take a break before the ritual purification, or taharah, and the funeral. They instructed me to wake Yosefa’s husband around 6 a.m., then I heard the door close and was alone with Yosefa.

A small bedside lamp lit her face. Yosefa lay covered by a light blanket, peaceful, one leg bent, with an enigmatic smile, and her scalp bare from chemo. Her arms were still warm. I wrapped myself in quilts, and read psalms aloud. The psalms were too somber, so I switched to songs and prayers from Jewish Renewal and the Kohenet siddur, quietly singing my favorite songs and prayers, walking around the room as the curtains billowed in the brisk November breeze.

I felt Yosefa’s spirit in that dark room, a sense of her energy and sweetness. She looked greatly at ease. My friends had been praying, and I felt their energy, and that of peaceful prayers and psalms. All I witnessed before me was peace, and release, and a sense of flying joy that was not my own. I stood, and prayed, and sang.

Soon after 6 I woke her husband, and I left as he went to her side. It was so hard to leave Yosefa’s side. Hard to leave that palpable energy, the growing light, the flowing curtains, my soft sung psalms and prayers. But if anyone deserved to be bathed in Yosefa’s love it was her husband, and so I woke him, and left as he entered their bedroom one last time, and shut the door quietly behind me.

I went downstairs and lay on their living room couch, warming up, waiting for a ride back to the hotel. I had worked all day and been up all night, and it was well past dawn. I floated, tired, feeling hollow and surprised and connected, held in love and mystery and gratefulness.

Kohenet Ellie Barbarash, MS, CPEA, lives and works in Philadelphia as an occupational safety specialist and educator. She is a member of the Philadelphia Jewish Reconstructionist Chevrah Kaddisha, and a Gamliel Institute student.

Kohenet Elie Barbarash

Kohenet Ellie Barbarash


Gamliel Courses

The next course in the cycle of core courses offered by the Gamliel Institute will be Course 4 – Nechama/Comfort. It will be offered online during the Fall from October 9th to December 25th on Tuesday evenings, for 90 minutes each week for 12 weeks. The classes will begin at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST. Primary instructors will be Dan Fendel and Edna Stewart, with guest instructors.

Registration is now open – click here.

The course planned for Winter 2019 is Course 2 – Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah. Plan ahead! You can register online now.


Gamliel Café

Gamliel Students are invited to a free informal online session, held monthly. On the third (3rd) 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 October 18th. More details will be sent out soon.

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


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 usually be in groups of three ninety minute sessions (three consecutive Wednesdays) offered roughly twice yearly, 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, and the second was on The World to Come and the Zohar.

The next course will be November 28th, December 5th, and December 12th. We will continue to 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 each three session series. Contact us for information, by email, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at

You can also register for prior courses and access them via recording.


Taste of Gamliel Series

The 2018 Taste of Gamliel series has concluded, but it is not too late if you want to access the recordings. You can Register for the 2018 series, Your’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone: Jewish Practices of Remembrance, or any of the series from prior years, and view them in recordings.  There are usually five sessions in a series, and each session is approximately 90 minutes.

The 2019 series is being planned now. Registration for Taste of Gamliel is mandatory to access the sessions. The Registration fee of $36 for each series helps us defray the out of pocket costs.
Those registered will be sent the information on how to connect to the sessions. To register, click here: register.



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You can donate online at or by snail mail to either:

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Please note: this blog depends on you for content. Without you it cannot publish new material. 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.