December 9, 2015

We began to descend, the plane broke through the clouds, and the jungle floor appeared. As we banked, glimpses of the unbelievable Caribbean blue through the windows on the other side of the plane. Less than 24 hours later, I would be exploring a new cove of my beloved sanctuary of the sea and the coastal beaches of the Mexican Yucatan.

About one week into my 3 week stay, I was snorkeling over a familiar patch of reef. I was wondering about it getting boring and should I look for something new? Then, I noticed a change in the current and tidal surge. My body was floating on the surface in a different way. My orientation to the shore changed. I was a tiny bit more buoyant, and a bit more still.

Which led me to take on a challenge of true curiosity. Could I be in this spot and wait to see/feel/hear what was new or different? I wasn’t sure, so I waited. I let the water move my body. No fin kicks. And, as I found myself over a center part of the patch reef, I looked below, through an opening created by overlapping ledges – and saw a large dorsal fin. Grey. 10-12’ below me, hanging above the sandy bottom. Then a smaller, second dorsal fin. A nurse shark? An unusually large tail moved slightly. The surge moved me forward. A brief glimpse of the classic flat head and chin barbels. Wow. A nurse shark. No boat required.  I floated some more into more shallow water and coral ledges. Blink – a brown-red movement at the edge of my vision. I turned my head, waited. Scoot. Another streak of rusty red. I waited. Then briefly, I saw my first Red Lipped Blenny A cartoon-like character about 3 inches long, with fat red lips and unexpected eye lashes! I’d longed to see one, and here it was.

I continued this “I wonder what I’ll see?” snorkeling. Not looking for something/one, but seeing what showed up. Suddenly, I had an image, imagining swimming out of my physical body. Of fluid movement into the unknown, away from my body. And I was stunned by the idea, the notion – could dying be like this? To slide out of the physical world with curiosity and wonder about what is happening? What comes next? Without force or fear. Gliding forth, “eyes” wide open?

I’ve had a welcome sense of ease and peace since that snorkel trip. I have meditated for 40+ years and am familiar with a state of watching, no doing. Accepting. No thoughts. Perceiving. Could it be that snorkeling meditation and cushion meditation are each truly a practice? A verb? To practice? To practice and prepare for our passage? I can only hope that it’s true.


Sally Shannon, M.A., received a Master of Arts Degree from Lesley University. Her thesis: “Curriculum Development for Loss, Dying and Grief” included an internship at a hospice, as well as studies with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Stephen Levine, Raymond Moody, M.D. and other experts in End of Life studies and care. She currently coaches individuals and families in the San Francisco Bay Area about End of Life preparations, especially “Getting Your Affairs in Order Before Your Doctor Tells You To”, and consciously empowered choices for memorial/remembrances, and after-death care choices. She is particularly passionate about the tsunami of cremation, and how to make choices that reflect your values and allow for community grieving. Sally completed the training at Final Passages where she received a certificate as a Family Home Funeral Guide. She is working on her Course III project, “Jews and Cremation”, at the Gamliel Institute, and she encourages everyone to attend the annual Kavod v'Nichum conference – in Boston in 2016 (her home town) – and especially to participate in the presentations and discussions on Home Taharah and Cremation!







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: from January 5th to March 22nd, 8-9:30 pm EST/5-6:30 pm PST, 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). 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.


NOTE: Tuition for Gamliel Institute classes is $500 per person per course. Groups of 3 or more from the same organization can receive a 20% discount. There are clergy and student discounts available, and we work to find Scholarships and help students seek sources of funding. Contact us to inquire about any of these matters.


You can “>jewish-funerals.org/gamreg.


Please contact us for information or assistance. info@jewish-funerals.org or j.blair@jewish-funerals.org, or call 410-733-3700, or 925-272-8563.


Donations are always needed and most welcome – online at    


Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE “>@chevra_kadisha. Email J.Blair@jewish-funerals.org to be receive an email with the link to the blog weekly.


To find a list of other blogs and resources we think you, our reader, may find to be of interest, click on “About” on the right side of the page.There is a link at the end of that section to read more about us.


TOPIC RELATED EVENTS (Not sponosored by Kavod v’Nichum):


A Jewish Renewal Shabbaton with Reb Simcha Raphael

From Darkness to Light – Kabbalah and Practical Wisdom for End-of-Life Transitions

Rosh Hodesh Hanukah December 11-13, 2015

Sanctuary Retreat and Renewal Center 19520

Darnestown Road Beallsville, Maryland

Through study and story-telling, prayer, and meditation we shall explore the richness of Midrashic, Hasidic and Kabbalistic teachings dealing with the finality of life, journey of the soul after death and personal and communal responses to grief and to loss.

*  Transforming Darkness Into Light: Death, Destiny and the Calling of Our Lives”

*  “Do Not Go Gentle Into the Night”: Moses’ Death in Torah and Midrash – Contemporary Reflections”

*  Afterlife and Near-Death Experiences in Kabbalah – Practical Wisdom for End-of-Life Transition and Bereavement Care

*  End-of-Life Wisdom and Soul-Guiding in Hasidic Deathbed Stories

*  Contemplative and Joyous Renewal Davennen’

Full Program with Friday & Saturday night Lodging & 5 meals: $ 270 Early Bird ($300 after Nov 23rd) Commuter – Full Program with meals: $195 Early Bird ($225 after Nov 23rd)
Commuter – All Day Saturday (Lunch/Dinner): $165 Early Bird ($195 after Nov 23rd) Discounts (Cannot be combined) – 15% AK Full members Code FULL
10% – AK Assoc members Code ASSOC; Couples (same household) – Full weekend only Code COUPLE
10% – People attending from outside the DC/Baltimore Metro area Code OOT

Register and pay online at 301-349-2799

Lodging is limited.

Reb Simcha Raphael, Ph.D., is Founding Director of the DA’AT INSTITUTE for Death Awareness, Advocacy and Training. Ordained as a Rabbinic Pastor by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, he teaches Jewish Mysticism at Temple University, works as a psychotherapist and spiritual director in Philadelphia, is a Fellow of the Rabbis Without Borders Network and is author of numerous publications including the ground-breaking Jewish Views of the Afterlife. His website is  



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