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Jewish Death Practices:
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Donation for Gamliel Nechama Course
The Obligation of the Chevra Kadisha to Be Involved in Nechama
By David Zinner
Traditionally the Chevra Kadisha was involved in all aspects of the end of life continuum. Only in the last 150 years, and only in some communities, did the Chevra Kadisha limit itself and begin to focus solely on Tahara.
We hear members of Tahara teams say, "We just wash the dead body in the funeral home basement. Why would we need to know anything about providing comfort, or interacting with living people? "
All members of the Chevra Kadisha need Nechama skills. Even for those Chevra Kadisha groups that are primarily Tahara-based, they are numerous times when we interact with those who are touched by death. Listening, understanding, and compassion are needed skills.
As all caregivers learn, we first have to take care of ourselves. Tahara team members are not impervious to feelings. We may have lost someone close to us, and doing a tahara may stir up thoughts and feelings. We may need comforting and we may need "permission" to ask for it.
Second, we need to be aware of the feelings and emotions of our team members. We form an intimate community every time we do a tahara. It is critical that we connect with our team, that we are sensitive to their "state", and that we provide openings for sharing.
Third, we have a responsibility to the dying person and their family. Who better to work with them to explain what a tahara is all about? More than a description of the washing, it would also include the tradition, the prayers and the spiritual components.
Fourth, some tahara teams look for ways to include family members in part of the rituals. This could include shmira, or even participating in tying last knots during a tahara.
Fifth, who better to educate the broader community about tahara? Workshops about tahara inevitably require Nechama skills.
Sixth, interactions may occur at Bikkur Cholim visits, at the funeral, the burial, and the shiva that require Nechama skills.
Seventh, a family member may know you are in the Chevra Kadisha, see you in shul or on the street, and approach you with thanks.
With some kind of interaction likely, it is important for the Chevra Kadisha members to understand the journey of the mourner, so they can properly offer true assistance and comfort.
The Gamliel Institute's fourth course will be on Nechama - Comfort. We welcome contributions to help us cover the cost of developing that course.