September 18, 2019

His Face

[Editor’s Note: 18 students of the Gamliel Institute, the leadership training arm of Kavod v’Nichum, having successfully completed all courses and requirements as part of the certification process by the Gamliel Institute, participated in, and recently returned from, the first ever Study Mission that was at the heart of the capstone course in the Gamliel program. They studied, visited, learned, taught, met and connected with people and organizations involved in the mitzvot of Kavod Hameit and Nichum Aveilim in New York, Prague, and Israel (Including Tsefat and Jerusalem, among other sites). The study mission was groundbreaking, in that it exposed the Gamliel students to practices internationally, but even more so in that it created a dialogue and initiated relationships between Jews in all these places around the mitzvoth that are shared, though very differently practiced in the details. It is an opening on which to build to create a conversation and a sharing of best practices, learning, and mutual respect, cutting across boundaries of geography, denomination or practice, and time.

This blog posting is one of a series of entries that will appear perodically, written by various Gamliel graduates, and presenting their takes and thoughts on various aspects of the trip.   — JB]

Preface:  In the Spring of 2015, some 18 Gamliel students and staff attended an 18-day intense course of study in which we traveled to New York City, Prague, Safed, Jerusalem, and a number of other places in Israel.  This writing was inspired after such a visit to a place normally not on the map.  Most of the attendees are people who have done taharot and are very familiar with Jewish burial practices.

His face was gentle and calm.  His eyes were deep and sad and full.  As he gazed at us there was an understanding that went beyond words.  He knew who we were, beyond who we were, he understood.  And, as he spoke, we learned to understand him more than we ever expected.  His voice was resilient, soft, full, and alive.  He spoke of how hard this was, yet how important of a job to be done.  He spoke of honor, dignity, family, and accompaniment; of staying with family members long after the initial contact.  His compassion and caring oozed out and covered us like maple syrup on hot steaming pancakes.  We were engulfed in kindness.  Our work was raised to such a high level through his simple approach.  All people are holy.  Every son mattered.  Each family needs comfort and support.  Even body parts separated from their home were important and treated with the same respect.

This was the IDF Casualty Center.  This was where all fallen soldiers in the Israeli Army are taken care of, given an honorable, beautiful, and holy Jewish burial.  And this is where their families received utmost respect, comfort, and support.  They stay with families of the fallen from first contact until after burial, and beyond.

We were shown the taharah room where bodies are prepared for burial.  Anywhere else these rooms are usually unkept, often disorderly, schmutzy, and just rooms.  This, on the other hand, was spotless, orderly, a holy of holies, where souls were gently midwifed to the next world with such kavanah that even those who do this work stood in awe.  We were the first, the only outsiders to ever be allowed inside.  We could not hide the tears of respect.  This is the realm of earthly angels doing G-d's work with such dignity, grace, kavod, and kavanah.  Although all of us strive to do the same, this set the bar so very high.

As he spoke his face broke into a warm subtle smile of warmth.  The depth of his caring was such an inspiration.  His team does not speak in the taharah room.  They say what needs to be said, the holy words are spoken outside of the taharah room.  Then they do their special task in total silence to emphasize the holiness of their work.  They can do this because they exude love.  Such kindness.  Such amazing dedication and menchlicheit.  These were extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.

It was such an honor to stand in their presence.  I only hope to be able to express to others what an example they set for us.

Kol hakavod, v'todah rabah.


Rick Light has been teaching spiritual development for more than 30 years, and started the Chevrah Kadisha in Los Alamos, NM, in 1996.  In 1998 he published the first edition of Guidelines for Performing Taharah as a manual to guide the local chevrah doing its holy work (the 4th edition is now available under the title, To Midwife A Soul). He wrote and published a book on a Taharah-like ritual for honoring non-Jews called Final Kindness: Honoring K'rovei Yisrael: Guidelines for Burial Preparation of Non-Jews Who Are Part of The Jewish Community. A new book is forthcoming soon (2016) titled, Rites of Death: The Beauty and Power of Jewish Tradition.  In 2006, he co-founded the Chevrah Kadisha of Northern New Mexico, a community chevrah that includes members from six shuls, encompassing all branches of Judaism.  In 2013 he published, Final Kindness: Honoring K’rovei Yisrael, a manual for preparing non-Jews for burial who are part of the Jewish community.  Rick is a Vice President of the North American educational organization, Kavod v’Nichum, Honor and Comfort, and a student and instructor for the Gamliel Institute.  He continues to teach and raise awareness about Chevrah Kadisha, Taharah, and Jewish death and burial practices at the local, state, and national levels. 







And Tell Anyone Else Who May Be Interested!

Winter 2016:  

During the coming Winter semester, the Gamliel Insitute will be offering the online course. Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah (T&S). This course will run at two times (if there is adequate registration): from January 5th to March 22nd, 8-9:30 pm EST/5-6:30 pm PST9-10:30 pm AST, and from January 11th to March 28th, Noon to 1:30 pm EST/9-10:30 am PST (12 sessions at each time). There will be an online orientation session Monday January 4th at 12-1:30 pm EST, and a second orientation session on Monday, January 4th at 8-9:30 pm EST (Students may attend either one). PLEASE NOTE: We will be using a new (to us) Platform for the classes, so definitely plan on attending one of the orientation sessions! 

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

This course is an in-depth study of the work of the Chevrah Kadisha in the activities and mitzvot of guarding the body of the deceased (shmirah) and of ritually preparing the body for burial (taharah). This is very much a “how-to” course as well as an examination of the liturgy, and of the unusual situations that can arise. The course also looks at the impact of the work on the community and on the members of the Chevrah Kadisha, and provides an ongoing review of best practices. Studies include: spiritual transformative power; personal testimony; meaning and purpose; face of God; Tahor and Tamei; Tachrichim; History; manuals, tefillah, training, impediments; safety; and complications.

SPRING 2016:

Gamliel Institute Course 3, Chevrah Kadisha Education, Organizing, & Training will begin March 29th, 2016. This course has a prerequiste. Please note it on your calendar, and plan to attend if you are eligible. More information to be forthcoming shortly.


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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Please contact us for information or assistance. or, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.






Taste of Gamliel registration is also open. Join us for a 5 part webinar with the theme The World To Come – Do You Have Your Ticket? The series will include one session each month from January to June.  The first session will be January 31st at 8 pm EST/5 pm PST.  Free, with a suggested $36 donation to help us defray the expenses of presenting the series.

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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 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!    


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