August 3, 2016

I’ve spent the last two years recovering and rehabilitating from serious injuries after a much larger vehicle failed to stop and broadsided my vehicle as I was driving through an intersection. Recently, I was finally discharged from physical therapy and medically cleared to begin an exercise regime.

As part of my recovery, I’ve been walking a couple of miles almost every day for some months, and for a while, I’ve been longing for something more stimulating and challenging, something that would nourish my spirit as well as help my body. But my fear of re-injury is powerful and I knew that I wanted guidance. So, I signed up for classes at a local yoga studio with a teacher who is well-known for her expertise in helping students with physical limitations.

The final pose of almost all yoga classes is intended to provide deep restoration: Savasana, Corpse Pose, or Final Relaxation Pose. As I am learning, the ability to transition from an hour of challenging my mind and body to 10 to 20 minutes of absolute stillness, to consciously enable my mind and body to relax into simply being, takes intentionality, practice and patience. I was not surprised to learn that yoga practitioners consider Savasana to be the ultimate act of conscious surrender. To practice being a corpse is a difficult thing.

One of the benefits that I am experiencing is that Savasana enhances my awareness of how difficult it must be for patients to whom I provide spiritual care to relax and surrender into their dying processes. For many people for whom I provide care, especially for those who have resisted thinking about, preparing or planning for death, coming to the end of life is terrifying. For those dying on hospice service or in a hospital setting, there is the additional layer of how their dying process is being managed. For some, every possible medical intervention is being attempted and families are encouraging the dying person to “keep fighting” or to “hold on” until a family member can arrive from across the country or the world. Even for those dying on hospice or on comfort care in a hospital setting, caregivers, medical personnel and family members are monitoring, administering pain medications, visiting in order to say goodbye.

Whether the dying person’s favorite music is being played, a television is providing background white noise, prayers are being recited, medical personnel are answering questions from the family, calls are being made to provide status updates to family and friends far away, or plans “for afterward” are being discussed, there often a surprising amount of noise and commotion taking place around the dying person. Perhaps because Judaism so emphasizes the importance of our actions, it is difficult for us to accept the reality of death in our midst, to be present, quiet witnesses to the dying process.

When we recite the Unetaneh tokef on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we are reminded that every human being is “a fragment of pottery, a blade of grass, a flower that fades, a shadow, a cloud, a breath of wind.” We may intellectually understand these words, but, on psychological, emotional, and spiritual levels, how achingly sad they are and what a challenge it is for us to quiet ourselves sufficiently so that, as Jeremiah says, we accept the hard truth that “death is the way of the world.”

Practicing Savasana is an embodied experience of the reality that one day, each of us will assume the Corpse Pose. As a parallel to praying the Viddui of the Bedtime Shema, the regular practice of Savasana reminds us that intentional surrender calms body and soul, preparing us for a conscious final relaxation. 

Rabbi Janet Madden PhD was ordained by The Academy for Jewish Religion-California. She serves as the rabbi of Temple Havurat Emet and Providence Saint John’s Health Center and has been a student of the Gamliel Institute.




Please Tell Anyone Who May Be Interested and Sign up Yourself!

           Fall 2016:

Gamliel Institute Course 5, Chevrah Kadisha Ritual, Practices, & Liturgy (RPL) will be offered over twelve weeks from September 6th, 2016 to November 22nd 2016 online. There will be an orientation session on September 5th for those unfamiliar with the online course platform used, and/or who have not used an online webinar/class presentation tool in past. Times will be 5-6:30 pm PDST/8-9:30 pm EDST on Tuesday evenings.

The focus of this course is on Jewish practices and all ritual and liturgy (excluding Taharah & Shmirah, which are covered in Course 2). This deals specifically with ritual and practice towards and at the end of life, the moment of death, preparation for the funeral, the funeral, rituals of mourning, and remembrance.  


There is no prerequisite for Course 5; you are welcome to take it with no prior knowledge or experience, though interest in the topic is important. Please register, note it on your calendar, and plan to attend the online sessions. Note that there are registration discounts available for three or more persons from the same organization, and for clergy and students. There are also some scholarship funds available on a ‘need’ basis. Contact us (information below) with any questions.

You can “>jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is there as well. For more information, visit the “>Kavod v’Nichum website or on the

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. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at  “>here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).



If you would like to receive the Kavod v’Nichum newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at “>Gamliel.Institute website.



Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE “>@chevra_kadisha.

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.

Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to  


If you have an idea for a blog entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.





Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.