[Ed. Note: This letter was written by a parent and congregant, and received by the rabbi of a congregation, who then passed it along to a member of the Taharah team there. That Taharah team person is active with Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, and felt that it might be appropriate to share with others. Permission was sought to use the letter here, in the Expired And Inspired blog, withholding names and identifying information. This is part of why we, members of various Chevrah Kadisha teams do what we do. — JB]
I am not sure how to send this to the community, but I wanted to somehow share this:
A year ago when my daughter passed away, I made a promise to myself that when I finally had my wits about me, I would find a way to publically thank the synagogue community for their help through Rivkah's illness and death. Many people reached out to us during the unspeakably difficult two years that Rivkah went through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and other treatments. But what meant the most to me was how the synagogue community helped our family right after Rivkah died.
I had known that Jewish tradition involved a washing of the body of the deceased. However, it never occurred to me that I would be utterly unprepared to do this myself, or prepare for this ritual in any way. The day that Rivkah died was the worst day of my life. There are simply no words to describe what it is like to watch as the body of your once warm, joyful daughter — now cold and still — is carried out of your home to the cemetery where she will be laid into the earth the next day. All I could think of was how Rivkah had once said that she wanted a lightweight casket so that if she were really still alive, she could sit up and get out. Looking at her body and knowing that she would be carried out of her comfortable bed and out of the bedroom that she herself had painted teal not long ago, and taken to a cold cemetery, I knew that I was capable of nothing other than despair. Although I had once nursed my daughter as a baby, and made her grilled cheese as a teenager, and even held her in my arms as she died, I knew that on this final night I could not care for her body myself. My grief was too deep.
At that moment, the community did what I could not. Four women from the synagogue whose names I never knew reached out and performed a mitzvah for our family that I will never be able to repay. As a physician, I know that dealing with death and dead bodies – particularly that of a teenagers – is taboo and scary. Four mothers who will never publicly be thanked or recognized overcame their fear, learned the Jewish rituals of Taharah, and performed the ritual cleansing and sanctification of Rivkah before we buried her. They were the last ones to see her body and to say goodbye. It was utterly the lowest point in my life and I was carried forward by people who are still anonymous. Somehow it is reassuring to know that when you really can go no further, your community will reach out and carry you and those that you love.
I never knew, or will know, who those four people are. However, each time that I look at everyone in the synagogue, I imagine that each individual I see is the person who performed the Taharah and gave that final gift to my daughter. Our deepest gratitude and love are with this community always.
Name and information withheld
GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES
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STILL TIME – REGISTRATION IS OPEN: THE COURSE BEGINS DECEMBER 6th!
Gamliel Institute Course 1, Chevrah Kadisha History, Origins, & Evolution (HOE) will be offered over twelve weeks on Tuesday evenings from December 6th, 2016 to February 21st, 2017, online.
For those who register, there will be an orientation session on Monday December 5th. 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 that may be necessary (though the course begins after the return in the U.S. to standard time from daylight savings.]
Please note: the class meetings will be online, and will take place on Tuesday evenings (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.
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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.
Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama (Comfort), online on Tuesday evenings (except on Jewish holidays) in the Spring (starting March 6th, 2017). The orientation session is scheduled for Monday, March 5th, 2017, also at 8 pm EST. Look for information to be forthcoming, or visit the Gamliel.Institute website, or go to the
If you are not sure if this course is for you, plan to attend the Free one-time Taste of Nechama session on Monday evening, February 13th, 2017 at 8 pm EST. The instructors will offer a few highlights from the materail that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes.
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If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email [email protected]. 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.