It’s Different When It’s One of Your Own

September 14, 2016

My minister colleague passed into the next world recently. I had only known her about six months, and yet, we had become quite close. The depth we’d reached in our relationship in such a short time was partly because of who she was and her beautiful neshamah or soul. It was also partly because I was her mashapiah or spiritual director, both individually and in a group with other ministers. Her passing has had unexpected effects on me. I think that’s because she was and I am a clergy person. I also think this would be true had we both been marketing executives or machinists or musicians. Sharing one’s life’s work with colleagues makes you unique friends, and those outside the work don’t often understand the bond. Indeed, we often find ourselves close friends with people we’d never have become friends had it not been that we worked together.

As a group of her clergy colleagues and I were processing her passing, one said “it’s different when it’s one of your own.” Clergy are used to being at the bedsides of people transitioning from this life to the one beyond. They are used to being with grieving families in all kinds of situations in which a loved one is dying or has died. Clergy comfort the dying and the bereaved. When our own family members die, we are often the ones to lead the funeral, memorial, and graveside services. I’ve done this myself several times for my relatives. I prepare for it in the same way I prepare when it’s not a family member, and if I cry at the service, I don’t lose control; I’m still able to create the service and comfort the mourners. I also don’t personalize it in the way I’ve personalized my colleague’s passing. Somehow with her passing, my own eventual death seems more real, seems nearer.

Sure, she and I were close in age, and our paths to the ministry and rabbinate were pretty similar in that these were both new professions for us in our middle age. Sure, we shared a passion for the work and we both at times found text study to be a deep meditation. And we were also very different in many ways. Had she been a middle aged woman scientist or shared my enthusiasm for gardening or history or cooking, I don’t think I’d be feeling so driven to begin to prepare for my own dying.

There is a Buddhist practice of meditating on one’s death daily in preparation for its eventuality. Indeed, we Jews have something like this in our Bedtime Shema, which I’ve been praying pretty much every night for about seven or eight years. That’s when I run through the day in my mind and pray that those whom I may have wronged in any way will forgive me, and I forgive those who might have wronged me over the course of the day. I pray that HaShem will protect me in the night and will grant me the ability to awaken, and I pray the Shema for the last time that day. It’s the Jewish way of preparing for death. This practice has taken on a whole new significance since my colleague died.

Now during my Shema al HaMita or Bedtime Shema, I linger on the part when I ask for G-d’s sheltering wings to protect me in the night. For the ancients, of course, the night was a scary time in a way it isn’t for me. For the Rabbis, sleep was considered to be one sixtieth of death, as if a sixtieth part of ourselves died each night and was resurrected in the morning, G-d willing. For me, living safely in a place where I don’t have to worry about being attacked in the night and being one who understands that sleep isn’t really a form of dying, the prayer for G-d’s protection now feels like a rehearsal for my eventual leave-taking from this body. Since my colleague died, life’s brevity and unexpectedness carry more currency. Now, too, when I awaken and pray modah ani, my gratitude for receiving my life back, I take more time to relish feeling alive. My colleague gave me this gift with her dying, a gift I never received from another’s death. I’m pretty sure that’s because she “was one of our own.”


Lori D. Shaller is an ordained Mashpiah Ruhanit – Spiritual Director, and received her Rabbinic Ordination in January, 2015 from the ALEPH:  Alliance for Jewish Renewal Rabbinic Ordination Program.  She is also an educator and curriculum writer in the fields of World History and English Language Arts.  Lori lives on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, where she leads Clergy Spiritual Direction Groups and Spiritual Eldering Groups.  She is guest clergy at Jewish and Unitarian congregations and works as an Administrative Assistant for the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard. Lori is a student of the Gamliel Institute. 



Please Tell Anyone Who May Be Interested!

    Winter 2016:


Gamliel Institute Course 1, Chevrah Kadisha History, Origins, & Evolution (HOE) will be offered over twelve weeks on Tuesday evenings from December 5th, 2016 to February 21st, 2017, online. 

Not quite sure if this is for you? Try a free ‘taste’ by coming to an introductory session on Monday, November 14th, 2016 from 8 to 9:30 pm EST. The instructors will talk about what the course includes, give a sense of how it runs, and talk about some of the topics that will be covered in depth in the full course.
For those who register, there will be an orientation session on Monday December 4th. It is intended for those unfamiliar with the online course platform used, all who have not taken a Gamliel Institute course recently, and those who have not used an online webinar/class presentation tool in past.
Class times will be all be 5-6:30 pm PST/6-7:30 pm MST/7-8:30 CST/8-9:30 pm EST. If you are in any other time zone, please determine the appropriate time, given local time and any Daylight Savings Time adjustments necessary.


Please note: the class meetings will be online, and will take place on Tuesdays (unless a Jewish holiday requires a change of date for a class session). 
The focus of this course is on the development of the modern Chevrah Kadisha, the origins of current practices, and how the practices and organizations have changed to reflect the surrounding culture, conditions, and expectations. The course takes us through the various text sources to seek the original basis of the Chevrah Kadisha, to Prague in the 1600’s, through the importation of the Chevrah Kadisha to America, and all the way to recent days. It is impossible to really understand how we came to the current point without a sense of the history.


There is no prerequisite for this course; 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 register for Gamliel Institute courses online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is there as well. For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or look at information on the Gamliel Institute at the Kavod v’Nichum website or on the Gamliel.Institute website.

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.



Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama, in the Spring (starting March 6th, 2017). Look for information to be forthcoming, or visit the Gamliel.Institute website, or go to the Kavod v'Nichum Gamliel Institute Registration site. 


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 http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute are reognized and registered 501(c)(3) organizations, and donations may be tax-deductible. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.
You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click 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.
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Past blog entries can be searched online at the L.A. Jewish Journal. Point your browser to http://www.jewishjournal.com/expiredandinspired/, and scroll down. Along the left of the page you will see a list of ‘Recent Posts” with a “More Posts” link. You can also see the list by month of Expired and Inspried Archives below that, going back to 2014 when the blog started.  



If you have an idea for an 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 as Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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