The Bookends of Life by Jean B. Berman

January 3, 2019

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 afterward, 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 graduate of the Gamliel Institute, and has served as an Instructor. She is a Board member of Karvo v’Nichum. 


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 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 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 info@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or simply register online at www.jewish-funerals.org/gamreg/.


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 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.


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