September 22, 2019

Unveiling a Monument, Building a Memory

Although I am a rabbi now, I did not grow up in a family that practiced. My first experiences with unveilings were ones I did myself, following what I had learned in rabbinical school and from Rabbis Manuals.

Now, I am a hospice chaplain, and a few weeks ago, I accompanied a family member to the gravestone cutters to support her in choosing the design for her husband’s tombstone. She had chosen the color and type of stone, she had pondered over design and the placement and form of Jewish star, interlaced or solid, etc. And then, most difficult, was the arrangement of the names of the three people: her husband, her father in law’s ashes, and her own name with her birthdate, leaving an empty spot for the date of her death. There were joking words with the sales person about being careful, as this was for “all eternity,” and suddenly I found myself choking up, reaching out a hand to comfort my client, who responded, “I’M ok…how are YOU?”

I had always likened the unveiling to be similar to that scene in A Christmas Carol when the ghost of Christmas future takes Scrooge out and shows him his own tombstone in the cemetery.

Indeed, this ritual does mark another step in the journey of grieving that brings home the reality of loss, for all eternity, of a loved one: the dramatic moment when we pull away the cloth covering the stone, and there it is: the name of one so dear to us, in stone.

Later on that day, when we went to see the spot where the marker was to be placed, after having been engraved, we walked for a while in the cemetery. As we got into our cars to leave, suddenly she pointed a finger across the street and said, “There’s my grandmother! I knew she was somewhere in this area, but I never found her before!” Many stories poured forth of her grandparents, their immigrant experience, their finding their way to San Francisco, the small part they played in the building the city what it is today. “Aren’t cemeteries wonderful?” I said, and she agreed. They are not only monuments to loss, but to life that has been lived, reminders of history, of individual and family stories, preserved in those stones. They are places to reminisce, places of memory, of cherishing and closeness, places to teach and give context to a family’s thread of history in the great Mythic story of a people.


Me’irah Iliinsky is a Reconstructionist rabbi, as well as an artist. She works as a hospice chaplain for Vitas Healthcare in the San Francisco Bay region and teaches Torah at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Her artwork can be viewed at  






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.  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. For those registered, the sessions will be recorded and may be accessed afterwards (instructions will be provided following each session) so those who cannot watch live can still view the presentations.

View the program and speakers by clicking  Register   




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!    





Please Tell Anyone Else Who May Be Interested!

Spring 2016:  

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 session if you were not a student in Winter 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) from September 6th, 2016 to November 22nd 2016. This course has no prerequiste. Please note it on your calendar, and plan to attend.


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.



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