October 22, 2019

The Bookends of Life by Jean B. Berman

Washing the body, purifying the deceased

The call came from a woman I liked and had learned from: would I consider participating in a Taharah – a what? Someone had died and she was spearheading a new initiative to offer the traditional Jewish ceremony of purification. I was hesitant but open, and after more conversation decided I would give it a try. I felt unsure – what would it be like to cleanse a dead body? Would there be a smell? Could I handle it or would I want to leave?

The woman who had called me led the team as we met together in a room of a local funeral home. She asked for questions and feelings, which we discussed. When we were ready, our leader set a sacred tone into which I relaxed. Praying to the soul of the deceased woman, we let her know our intention of offering honor, respect and comfort, and asking forgiveness in advance for anything we did or didn’t do that missed the mark. That was reassuring.

The sights and smells of the funeral home were unfamiliar and felt challenging. What was I doing there? As one woman was directed to begin reading the prayers for the ceremony, the rest of us gently, and with reverence began to prepare the body of the deceased. The liturgy was mostly unfamiliar to me. We were all learning. We debriefed afterwards, talking about and giving thanks for the opportunity. I left with deep gratitude for the sacredness of the experience.

During my second Taharah, I found myself feeling how much this was like welcoming a newborn baby with tenderness and care. I imagined and wished that all those in the process of dying and everyone on Earth could have this experience. I sent wishes of peace and blessing out to those in the dying process everywhere, that they might feel held, comforted and honored. I had a deep sense within that I was born to do this work.

Over time the spiritual experience of Taharah and Shmirah have deepened for me. I have immersed myself in learning and sharing aspects of these sacred traditions with others.


Jean Berman speaks and leads workshops on Honor and Comfort: The Jewish Way of Death and Mourning, Care of the Newly Dead – An Inquiry into Intuition and Tradition, and How Death Enhances Life: Heightening our Awareness. She enjoys walks in nature, kayaking and playing ukulele, and lives on Peaks Island, Maine. She is a student of the Gamliel Institute

Jean B. Berman

jean B. Berman

[Ed.Note: All of us at Kavod v’Nichum wish you (those who are celebrating it now) a happy Thanksgiving holiday.] 

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Gamliel Courses

The next course in the cycle of core courses offered by the Gamliel Institute will be Course 2 – Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah. It will be offered live online during the Winter from January 8th to March 26th on Tuesday evenings, for 90 minutes each week for 12 weeks. The classes will begin at 5 pm PST/8 pm EST. Primary instructor will be Rick Light, with guest instructors.

Registration is now open – click here.

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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 December 20th. More details will be sent out soon.

If you miss a Gamliel Café and wish access to the recording (if one is made) please send a request to receive it after the date of the session.

If you are interested in teaching a session, you can contact us at rboroditsky@jewisgh-funerals.org, rlight@jewish-funerals.org, or info@jewish-funerals.org.

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Gamliel Continuing Education Courses

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 live course will be November 28th, December 5th, and December 12th. We will continue to look at death as seen in the Zohar, with a focus on the Idra Rabbah mateials, taught by Beth Huppin. This is a stand-alone course – you do not need to have taken the prior course to register for this one.

Registration is required, and there will be a tuition charge of $72 for each three session series. Contact us for information, by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/.

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

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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 via 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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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 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. There is a matching donation program in progress so your dollars go further. See the website for details.

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,

c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum,

8112 Sea Water Path,

Columbia, MD  21045.

Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute] are 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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SUBMISSIONS WELCOME

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 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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