October 22, 2019

Ten Years and Three Hours by Karen B Kaplan

Is it time?

The closer a marathon runner gets to the finish line, the more the suspense builds up,  each mile covered takes on more and more significance. But as the distance to the end diminishes, the strange thing is that the chance of risk as well as reward increases. The runner is more likely to finish, yet more likely to become too weary to go on.

The girlfriend of one of my hospice patients found herself in this quandary. Jackie (all the names are changed) had lived with Saul for ten years. About a month before Saul was admitted to the hospice residence, they wanted to publicly validate their deep and abiding love with a formal marriage ceremony. But each time they wanted to set their plans in motion, Saul got a little bit sicker. Jackie kept putting it off hoping that he would feel a bit better and that they would wed then.

When Saul first joined the residence, he was still talking, but by the time I met the couple a couple of days later, Saul no longer could speak. Later that day I found out from a social worker that Jackie somehow wanted some kind of acknowledgment of their relationship, even if it was not technically a wedding. The social worker and I entered the room; Saul had his eyes open—sort of—and I explained to Jackie that I could do a “love ceremony,” so named to ward off any misunderstandings about legal implications. She and other family agreed, so I softly sang an upbeat melody, read from The Song of Songs, directed the “bride” to plant a little kiss on Saul’s forehead, and offered congratulations to her and other family present. After a moment of taking this in, Jackie said, “He looks more peaceful now.”  At the end of my shift I discovered that three hours after the ceremony, he had died.

The opening moments after reaching the finish line bear a heightened significance much as the ones before do. There is completion, there is release, perhaps material consequences. There is an altered world. For the survivors of the death of a loved one, all the things people say and do will have a disproportionate impact on them compared with what they say and do as the finish line recedes and life reverts to its mundane schedules.  For many of the readers of “Expired and Inspired”, you are in a privileged position. With your sensitivity as members of a chevra kadisha, or as part of a funeral home staff, or other related groups and professions or simply as a sensitive person, you have the opportunity to skillfully and compassionately bring solace and insight more than others might to the survivors. Just as a hospice team aims to make the most of moments before death, so can a chevra kadisha strive to do the same for those rarefied moments that come after, when all is taken so deep to heart.

Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died, (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. She has also recently published a collection of science fiction stories, Curiosity Seekers (Createspace Independent Publishing, 2017). She has submitted multiple entries published in Expired And Inspired.

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan photo

Rabbi Karen B. Kaplan


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 instructors will be Rick Light, assisted by Holly Blue Hawkins, with guest instructors.

Registration is now open – click here.


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, during which Rabbi Me’irah Iliinsky will talk about her art which is being presented to the Pittsburgh community. 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 to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

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


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 third course was November 28th, December 5th, and December 12th. 2018, with Beth Huppin focusin on the Idra Rabbah section of the Zohar. If you wish to secure access to any of the courses, register and a link to the recordings will be provided.

The next series will be in the Winter of 2019. Information will be sent out as available. Registration is required for the Continuing Education programs, and there is a tuition charge of $72 for each 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/.


Taste of Gamliel Series

The Taste of Gamliel series have each concluded, but it is not too late if you want to access the recordings. You can Register for any of the prior series, 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. It will run on dates spanning the period from January to June.

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 close to the time for each. To register, click here: register.



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. At this time there is also a fundraising effort to support the Chevrot Kadisha in Pittsburgh – look for that on the website at www.jewish-funerals.org.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to:

Kavod v’Nichum, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045.  Please note how you would prefer your donation to be used on the memo line.

Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute] are 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 (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).



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.