September 23, 2019

A Hard Taharah

It has been exactly a year since our Chevrah Kadisha performed taharah for O, who was 10 months old.  When our team of 4 answered the call, I asked them to think of lullabies in Hebrew and/or English and niggunim (wordless melodies) which we would use during the taharah in place of the usual readings.  I also sent an email to the other members of our Chevrah asking for their thoughts, and prayers, and embracing energies to accompany us on this difficult mitzvah. 

O had congenital heart failure, and her home for most of her 10 months had been her hospital room.  She also had had an autopsy.

Her family did not have any clothes that they wanted her to wear. The funeral home did not have tachrichim (shrouds) in so small a size.  The day before the taharah, I shopped at several stores looking for something suitable, with only a vague image in my mind. The sales people tried to be very helpful, however, I could not answer their questions — how big is she? what color is her hair?

I was having a difficult time, trying to keep from crying while not wanting to explain why I needed these clothes. At the last store, the effort got the better of me, and I told my story to the saleslady who began to cry while telling me about her grandchild who had died. She helped me choose a soft, white long sleeved one piece pajama with hand and feet coverings and a white cap, and she gave me an extra package of caps.

Before we entered the room, M, R, M, and I talked — about our feelings, about our concerns, about our hearts that were beating so fast, and we shared the lullabies and niggunim.
O was so tiny. We placed thick towels under her so that she laid on softness.  We washed her, using pieces of white gauze and the small hand pourers, instead of towels and buckets.  During the taharah, we lifted and held her. 

The onesie was soft on her body and fit her beautifully. Her tiny waist was encircled with a delicate white ribbon and knotted and tied with a tiny shin (the Hebrew letter that indicates one of G-d’s names used in a taharah).  We wrapped her in a piece of the sovev (the surrounding covering wrap) with her head resting on a small muslin bag of straw.  We read several appropriate selections from our manual; however, most of the time, we sang lullabies and songs, hummed niggunim, and talked with her.  There was always at least one of us at her side the entire time.

As difficult as our taharah of tears was, it was, too, a truly beautiful time.  We were blessed by O's presence and her sweet smile and by the sacred sharing of this mitzvah.
May her memory be a blessing.


Malke Frank is a founding member of her Chevrah Kadisha, and a student in Gamliel Institute classes. She is a retired Jewish educator of 30 years and creative movement specialist, working both in Israel and the USA.  In 1992, she co-founded the Jewish Women's Center of Pittsburgh, Inc  which introduced  Rosh Hodesh celebrations, feminist Pesach seders, and new personal rituals to the Jewish community.  She acted in Kol Isha, a women's theatre group which brought together women from various lifestyles, Jewish backgrounds, and affiliations. She also helped to found a Reconstuctionist minyan. She serves on the board of the Jewish Chronicle, Pittsburgh's weekly Jewish newspaper.  Presently, Malke's main focus is her 3 grandchildren — Renen, Noa, and Sarah. 




A Taste of Gamliel – Your Life is Over: Do You Know Where Your Soul Is? This is the theme of this year’s Taste of Gamliel series, and we are proud to say that “We’ve Got Soul.” A five session series on the subject of concepts of the soul, with guest teachers Rabbis Burt Visotsky, Elie Spitz, Goldie Milgram, T’mimah Ickovits, and Dr. Eitan Fishbane, spanning February to June. Click the link to register and for more information.
Free, suggested minimum donation of $36 for all five sessions. The first session (RabbiT’mimah Ickovits) was Sunday February 1st, the second (Dr. Eitan Fishbane) on March 1st.
The third session (Rabbi Burt Visotsky) will be on March 29th. All sessions will be recorded and available for (re-)viewing by those who are registered. 

Chevrah Kadisha & Spiritaul Care Conference

Planning to be in Israel May 5th 2015?  If so, the American Kavod v'Nichum and its Gamliel Institute cordially invite you to attend a Chevrah Kadisha and Spiritual Care conference focused on traditional Jewish practices at the end of life.
Kavod v’Nichum Israel-American Kenes
Dignity, Simplicity, Comfort and Spirituality At Life’s End

What:  A program of learning and an exchange of information focusing on Chevra Kadisha, Spiritual Care and end of life issues. (Program in English)

Why: To compare and contrast American and Israel end of life practices – funeral and burial planning, tahara, shmira, mourning; to learn from each other, share problems, network, strategize, brainstorm and explore working together.

For Whom: Chevra Kadisha administrators and workers, rabbis and rabbinic students, Israeli spiritual care providers; social workers, medical professionals, Chevra Kadisha students at Ariel University, advocacy groups, members of the national religious community, cemetery managers from kibbutzim, moshavim, civil and state sponsored cemeteries.

Sponsor: The Gamliel Institute of Kavod v’Nichum, an American non-profit organization that provides education and training for Chevra Kadisha groups.

When: Tuesday May 5, 2015

Time: 8:30am-5:00 pm

Where: Jerusalem – Yad Ben Tzvi – Ibn Gabirol Street 14

More Information: Contact Nomi Roth Elbert ( ) to be put on our mailing list.
To register, click here.

Starting in May:
Chevrah Kadisha: Educating, Organizing, & Training. Tuesdays. 12 online sessions. (Orientation session on Monday May 25th, classes start the 26th). 8-9:30 pm EST. Working with and educating the members of the Chevrah Kadisha, your congregation, the community, other organizations, and the public. Includes undertaking a project that will have practical and real world effect, and will also serve as information and a resource for others. There is a prerequisite required to take this course.
You can register for this course, and other Gamliel Institute courses online at Contact us for more information about scholarships or any other questions. or call 410-733-3700. 


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