The Blessing of Being There
So often, when we think of Jewish Burial, we think of Taharah, the washing and dressing of the body. I would like us to consider that the other part of traditional practice, sitting shomer, siting as a guard, is equally as important and can have a profound effect on your community. Let’s call it The Blessing of Being There.
Having a loved one die is very distressing, this is clear. There are many emotions and concerns tied up in it. But I find that letting one’s love go; go with strangers when they are defenseless, go into an unknown process, the thought of them being absolutely alone without you is extremely difficult for people; whether they are physically there or not. This is compounded when it is a child, or when they have been involved in the ongoing care of someone. Maybe their parent has been getting old or frail or their spouse has been sick or had cancer. Their lives have been filled up with taking care of this person; it is hard to cut that kind of caring off. Time and again I have seen that having someone from the Chevrah Kadisha offer to be there, to go with the met or meitah to the funeral home or meet them there and stay until the shomrim volunteers come, brings instant comfort and relief. I have been on both the receiving end of that comfort, when my late husband died of his cancer at home, and on the giving end as the Rosh of our Chevrah at the Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael, and I have to say the feeling of relief strikes at the very core of who we are as human beings. People react in different ways, but there is an important bond created at that moment, a mutual connection that is not only personal, but is part of building and strengthening our community.
In our community of 300 or so families, we have over 80 volunteers for our Chevrah Kadisha and it is always growing. While maybe 10-12 of us do taharah, those who sit are seen as equally important. It is an entry point for some people to the work of the Chevrah, but it is, and should be, highly valued. How do we get such high levels of involvement?
1. We cast a wide net: While we maintain a list of all those who have provided shmirah in the past, and send a special notice to them upon the death of a congregant, we also invite participation as a shomer/shomeret to anyone in the congregation when we send out the condolence, funeral and shiva announcement. As we make calls to fill in the schedule, we reach out to friends of the deceased or friends of their family. After we have sat, if someone sat for us who was new to the experience, we call them afterwards to thank them, to see how it went, and to see if they would like to go on our Shomrim list and be invited again to sit. They almost always say yes.
2. We provide instruction: When people arrive, the people before them give them a personalized instruction sheet which includes the Hebrew name of the deceased, a meditation or reflection for them to consider using to help put them in the right frame of mind for the experience, and some of the do’s and don’ts of sitting. We show them where the books are (Psalms, poetry, reflections on life and death) the washroom, how to lock up, to pass it on to the next person, etc. Here is the reflection for a male deceased. It is preceded by this instruction: “To help you have the right kavvanah or get in the right spirit, here is a sample meditation you can use when you arrive. Feel free to use it, change it or come up with something from your heart.”
I have come here today to act as a shomer/shomeret for the met of (name/Hebrew name). He is on a journey from life here on earth, a part of our extended community, to eternal life with you. I am here for a few hours to accompany him on a leg of this journey, to show him the respect he deserves as a being created in your image and as a part of our community. I am part of a continuous line of people who will be here every step of the way for our departing friend. I am humbled by this task. Help me to be worthy. Help me to be present. Help me find the right songs, words, psalms that will come from my heart to light his way and lighten his steps. May my words and actions be a comfort to our friend. May my words and actions be a comfort to his family and our community. And may all that I say and do be pleasing to you and bring us peace.
Written by Barbara Kavadias © 2010
3. And we reinforce the experience: Besides having them instruct the next person when they get there (the old, learn-do-teach routine) we have a journal or notebook there for people to write their thoughts and reflections in. They are encouraged to write about their experience of sitting shmirah, their memories of the deceased, something they thought of while reading psalms, etc., or even sharing something they have read that they found meaningful. They are also encouraged to read what others have written. In this way, they are further connected to others who have sat, to the experience itself, and to their community.
Many of our communities are struggling with relevance and dwindling membership numbers. It seems to me that organizing a Chevrah Kadisha and providing Jewish meaning for families at the end of life helps to demonstrate the relevance of synagogue/community membership. Expanding on that mitzvah by emphasizing shmirah, sharing The Blessing of Being There far and wide both deepens that experience and carries its own message. Being a synagogue member is not just about paying dues, it is about community, about being there for each other, in good times and bad. Shmirah helps us build those bonds and allows us to hold each other tight.
Barbara Kavadias, a non-profit executive and leader with extensive experience in the business of making the world a better place, has demonstrated a longtime commitment to religious freedom and religious life. She serves on the Board of Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael, its Sisterhood board, the ritual committee and is Rosh of the MJCBY Chevrah Kadisha. Barbara has worked in non-profits in all capacities, from volunteer to Executive Director and is currently the Director of Membership Initiatives for USCJ. Barbara currently serves on the Board of Kavod v Nichum.
TASTE OF GAMLIEL
Taste of Gamliel registration is open. Join us for a 5 part webinar series with the theme The World To Come – Do You Have Your Ticket? The series will include one session each month from January to June, each on Sundays.
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KAVOD V’NICHUM CONFERENCE:
Be on the lookout for information about the 14th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, to be held in Lexington, MA June 5-7 2016. Register Gamliel Institute students (past and present) are also encouraged to plan to remain for an additional day following the conference for a live educational program. Information will be forthcoming about this event – look for it, and mark your calendar now!
GAMLIEL STUDENT PROJECTS
GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES
Please Tell Anyone Who May Be Interested!
During the coming semester, the Gamliel Insitute will be offering the online course. Chevrah Kadisha: Education, Organizing, & Training (EOT) [Course 3]. The prerequisite for this course is prior successful completion of Course 1, 2, 4, or 5. This course will run from May 3rd to July 19th, 8-9:30 pm EST/5-6:30 pm PST/9-10:30 pm AST. (12 class sessions). There will be an online orientation session Monday May 2nd at 8-9:30 pm EST. Past Students, please note: We are using a new (to us) online Platform for the classes, so definitely plan on attending the orientation sessions if you have not beein a Gamliel student since January 2016!
For more information, visit the “>Kavod v’Nichum website.
Course 3 has a full academic curriculum that teaches principles of organizing, training, education, and working within a community. Even more than that, however, the focus of this course is as a practical, hands-on course that helps students bring Jewish practices and values to fruition. It is designed as both an academic course, and a practicum. Its central deliverable is the support and mentoring of students in conceiving and carrying out useful projects of their own related to the Chevrah Kadisha world, whether in their own community, congregation, or business, or on a larger scale. Thus, the course offers students a way to make a difference and have a meaningful and positive impact in the world—a “real-world” effect. The course includes material on principles of education and organizing, and projects can range from academic research and writing, to community organizing, to creative and artistic endeavors. Organizing efforts might include starting a new Bikkur Cholim/Caring committee, educating the community about the Chevrah Kadisha’s work, teaching about the running of the local Jewish mortuary or cemetery, helping the Chevrah Kadisha to expand its services, or producing materials for education or to share the beauty and meaning of this work. This course is a vehicle for those who wish to undertake a project, with guidance and support from the Gamliel Staff and other students, that will provide benefits and information to their own community and/or other communities. You can see examples of completed Student projects at Fall 2016:
Gamliel Institute Course 5, Chevrah Kadisha Ritual, Practices, & Liturgy (RPL) will be offered from September 6th, 2016 to November 22nd 2016. This course has no prerequisites. Please note it on your calendar, and plan to attend. You can register online, and a full description of the course is there as well.
NOTE: Tuition for Gamliel Institute classes is $500 per person per course. Groups of 3 or more from the same organization can request a 20% discount. There are also clergy and student discounts available, and we work to find Scholarships and help students seek sources of funding to take Gamliel Institute courses. Contact us to inquire about any of these matters.
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