October 19, 2016

Leafing through some old notebooks recently, I came across something I had written when living in Mt. Airy, a suburb of Philadelphia where I went to rabbinical school. The neighborhood is home to many rabbinical students and faculty, and other Jewish people, all within easy walking distance,  making it somewhat unique in the liberal Jewish world, although common in Orthodox communities: A good half, if not more, of my rabbinic education came from living in this community—-“DOING” Jewish.


Last night, before attending the Hanukkah party, I went to a shiva minyan. A person in our greater community’s father had died. I don’t know this person well, but he is a friend of a friend, and a general announcement was put out on the net of this shiva minyan. 15-20 people were gathered, to pray together, and listen to the mourner speak of his parent.


These gatherings are frequent in our neighborhood, and are one of the most rich and profound joys of living closely together with others with the common intention of living Jewish lives. Not only do we share these tender times with one another, but we hear the wisdom of one’s relationship to a parent, and have a moment to contemplate the meaning of our own lives, our own relationships.


The mourner last night closed his loving and reverent reminisces of a charming, unique and probably challenging father with tears in his eyes. These were different tears, in addition to his tears of grief. They were tears of gratitude for the support of his community coming to sit with him in his grief. His last words of the evening were, “Community is SO important. It is SO important.”


In my present life, here in San Francisco, three synagogue members recently lost parents. I am reminded again how these shiva minyans are such sweet times, where the mourners may reminisce as long as they choose, where others who knew the deceased share stories, filling in puzzle pieces that sometimes the mourner him or herself had not heard before. Until one has experienced this one’s self, it is hard to imagine what a comfort it is to be surrounded by caring people, listening, sharing, laughing, crying, clinging to the memories, with no rush, no imperative to deal with day to day life, for just a few days. That this is reviving to the spirit of the mourner may be obvious, but I must say that these time are reviving to the spirit of those who attend and listen and share. We take the best memories as models to emulate and weave them into our own hearts and values, so that the deceased influences the culture of the community.


These rituals of ours are not simply for the deceased, or for the mourners. They impact the meaning of life for the entire kehillah, forming deep bonds of gratitude and trust, and this is another reason why they are so important.


Me’irah Iliinsky is a Reconstructionist rabbi, as well as an artist. Her Judaica artwork provides “Visual Access to Sacred Texts,” and is a unique way to enter a more contemplative understanding of Judaism. She teaches Torah at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Her artwork can be viewed at Versesilluminated.com. She has been a student of and instructor for the Gamliel Institute.




Please Tell Anyone Who May Be Interested!

         Winter 2016:


Gamliel Institute Course 1, Chevrah Kadisha History, Origins, & Evolution (HOE) will be offered over twelve weeks on Tuesday evenings from December 5th, 2016 to February 21st, 2017, online.  


Not quite sure if this is for you? Try a free ‘taste’ by coming to an introductory session on Monday, November 14th, 2016 from 8 to 9:30 pm EST. The instructors will talk about what the course includes, give a sense of how it runs, and talk about some of the topics that will be covered in depth in the full course.

For those who register, there will be an orientation session on Monday December 4th. It is intended for those unfamiliar with the online course platform used, all who have not taken a Gamliel Institute course recently, and those who have not used an online webinar/class presentation tool in past.

Class times will be all be 5-6:30 pm PST/6-7:30 pm MST/7-8:30 CST/8-9:30 pm EST. If you are in any other time zone, please determine the appropriate time, given local time and any Daylight Savings Time adjustments necessary.

Please note: the class meetings will be online, and will take place on Tuesdays (unless a Jewish holiday requires a change of date for a class session).  

The focus of this course is on the development of the modern Chevrah Kadisha, the origins of current practices, and how the practices and organizations have changed to reflect the surrounding culture, conditions, and expectations. The course takes us through the various text sources to seek the original basis of the Chevrah Kadisha, to Prague in the 1600’s, through the importation of the Chevrah Kadisha to America, and all the way to recent days. It is impossible to really understand how we came to the current point without a sense of the history.


There is no prerequisite for this course; you are welcome to take it with no prior knowledge or experience, though interest in the topic is important. Please register, note it on your calendar, and plan to attend the online sessions.

Note that there are registration discounts available for three or more persons from the same organization, and for clergy and students. There are also some scholarship funds available on a ‘need’ basis. Contact us (information below) with any questions.

You can “>jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is there as well.

For more information, visit the “>Kavod v’Nichum website or on the

Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.



Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama, in the Spring (starting March 6th, 2017). Look for information to be forthcoming, or visit the “>Kavod v'Nichum Gamliel Institute Registration site.  



Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, 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.

You can donate online at You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click  


If you would like to receive the Kavod v’Nichum newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at “>Gamliel.Institute website.



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To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to  


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 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, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.



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