November 20, 2019

Honor Guard by Susan Barnes

This is a description that I wrote shortly after I had my first experience of shmirah, guarding or watching over someone who has died. The Jewish tradition is not to leave a person alone from the time of their death until the time of their burial. A shomer (male) or shomeret (female) is the person who stays with the dead person during this time.

I was asked as a member of the Chevrah Kadisha to serve this role for a person in the community who had died. This case was a bit unusual. the person’s family said the deceased would not have wanted anyone to lose sleep watching over him. As a result, we only had people sit with him from the time he was placed in his coffin after the autopsy until the time I left to go home to bed that evening.

I arrived early, so I had time to walk around the facility, a mausoleum and funeral home (identifying information omitted). I was surprised to see that some people’s ashes were stored in containers in glass cases, which also contained other personal items, such as photographs, eyeglasses, and, in one case, a CD of the person’s memorial service.

At one end of the mausoleum are a couple of small chapels. The shomeret on the shift before me was in one of them, with the met (the body of the male deceased), who was in a plain wooden casket with a Jewish star on it.

I let the person with the shift before me know I was there, and I allowed her a moment to say goodbye to the met. After she left, I greeted the met, and introduced myself. I thought it would be creepy to be in a big mausoleum by myself at night, but it wasn’t.

The only thing even mildly creepy was the music playing in the background. It was like bad elevator music on Quaaludes – the very worst of what stereotypical funeral home music can be.

Traditionally, people doing shmirah read Psalms. The good news is that once I started reading the Psalms out loud, I could barely hear the awful music. I soon realized I should have brought a bottle of water. After only 20 or 30 minutes of reading out loud, my mouth started to dry out.

Other than that, the evening was uneventful and passed quickly. When it came time to leave, I felt bad about leaving the met, especially with that awful music playing. If I were him, that music would be driving me crazy. I wondered whether dead people get crazed by things like that.

On the way home, I began to wonder why it wasn’t creepy at all being there. It occurred to me that if I had just been sitting there, and not reading out loud, it would have been easier for me to hear odd noises and to start to think about them. Also, by concentrating on my reading, I didn’t have time to dwell on the possible source of any odd noises, even when I did hear them.

Then I thought, maybe there is something to reading all those Psalms about “God will protect me” and “God’s love is steadfast.” Maybe reading Psalms actually does provide mental strength and comfort. Maybe it helped me. I hope the Psalms, and/or my presence, helped the met.

Susan Esther Barnes is a founding member of Rodef Sholom’s (Marin) Chevrah Kadisha, and she can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services.


Kavod v’Nichum 17th Annual Chevrah Kadisha Conference

Watch for information on the 17th Annual Kavod v’Nichum Conference, to be held June 2-5, 2019 in Fort Collins, CO. Early Registration will open in January. Hold those dates.

Gamliel Students are encouraged to plan to attend the Gamliel Day of Learning that will immediately follow the Conference, running until June 6 mid-day. Again, watch for information on how to register to appear soon.


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 8 – March 26 on Tuesday evenings, for 90 minutes each week for 12 weeks. The classes will begin at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. 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 January 17, topic to be announced. 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

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


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 28, December 5, and December 12, 2018, with Beth Huppin focusing on the Idra Rabbah section of the Zohar. If you wish to secure access to any of these 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, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at


Taste of Gamliel Series

The prior 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 27 to a date in 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 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

You can donate online at 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 (



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.