1st North American Chevra Kadisha Conference June 22-24, 2003 – Attendee Feedback

The learning will expand you and the sharing will uplift you.
Barry E. Pitegoff - Tallahassee, FL

In modern “western” life death “doesn’t happen”. People know little or nothing of it; they know even less of how Judaism deals with death, other than a few traditional actions and minhagim. It is our conviction that our fellow Jews should know more of this subject to enable them to live more Jewishly and not just to become Jews as they draw their final breaths.
Rose Abrami – Sun City West, AZ

The enthusiasm and vibrancy of all, those who belonged to CK and those who were interested in forming CK, was inspiring. Yasher Koach to David and Lynn
Leonard Swartz - Westport, CT

Overall the best conference I have ever attended. All the workshops and penuries were excellent, the food marvelous, the hotel was pleasant and clean. Of course the people attending were outstanding individuals also – strong in their faith and devoted to Chevra Kadisha, uniformly welcoming. Things even occurred according to schedule!
Marie Joelson, Edmund, OK

My fellow Chevra Members will benefit from my incredible knowledge and confidence found this week. However, I am sure the next conference will not be missed by any – because the whole experience will become a priority for all chevra kaddisha members.
Susan Pullman – Gwynedd Valley, PA

How wonderful it is to see other people who share the same sense of holiness in dealing with Jewish people who have died. It signifies a deep value within Judaism.
Rabbi David Bockman - Raleigh

I gained so much insight.
Wendy Cotter – Albany, NY

I personally feel the work of Chevra Kadisha and especially tahara is a way of honoring the memory of six million of our brethren who perished. Being mostly, if not wholly European Jews, they would be largely Orthodox raised and never have had the chance of being prepared for burial. As a relief work with concentration camp survivors, my experiences have left a scar on my memory that can never be erased. I feel that all of us owe a debt to their memories that can never be repaid. Each time I do a taharah, I feel I am in an infinitesimal way – honoring them.
Sabina Shalom – Bethesda, MD

Just a note to tell you how much I enjoyed the conference. I know how much work must have gone in to it - well it certainly was worth it. I felt so moved as I looked around the room and saw all of us with one thought in our minds - how to take care of our own - what wonderful work we do with our hands, what a wonderful feeling we have doing G-d's work. May you be blessed with long life and good health and keep up the good work.
Faith Helene – West Hartford, CT

I got back to Hawaii and am making plans to push Chevra at our congregation thanks to your fantastic conference and good work. It was truly an exceptional learning experience. All the best.
Daniel Bender – Kaneohe, Hawaii

It was the best conference I've been to in years -- I can't thank you enough for all you did to organize it -- a tremendous success!! The speakers and workshops were all wonderful, and the network connections are so valuable. My only frustration was that I wanted to go to everything and couldn't be in 5 places at once. You and Lynn and your families and all the volunteers did such a great job!
Libby Bottero - Eugene

Thank you for allowing me to be part of such a wonderful conference.  I went away feeling much better about what we do, and want to spread the word here in Atlanta about Chevra Kaddisha and Tahara.  Since coming home, I've been contacted by a friend who wants to join our Chevra Kaddisha as well as another women in our congregation.

The Plenary sessions and workshops that I attended were very well done. Most speakers were excellent in their chosen topic.  The Tahara demonstration left out a little for those who have never participated nor observed, but it did hit the high points.  Prayers are said between cleaning, washing, dressing and placing in the casket.  (Maybe I didn't hear that part with talking all around me).

I made some new friends, and renewed some old.  I look forward to the next conference.

Reba Herzfeld, Chair
Temple Emanu-El Chevra Kaddisha
Atlanta, Georgia

The conference was a wonderful experience for me. I am glad I presented last so I was there for the whole thing! Congratulations on your work!
Vicki Rosenstreich – New York City

Sorry, we had to leave before the end on Tuesday. Had a great time and got a tremendous amount of good info and contacts.
Al Benoliel, Seattle

You must still be on a high enjoying the fruits of your labor. The conference was awesome. I enjoyed meeting all the people involved in this Holy work, and I learned alot.
This Friday at services I will be talking about Bikur Holim (we have "theme Shabbats", and this week's theme is Healthcare), Soon I will start talking about Hevreh Kadisha and begin to raise awareness in my community.
Again, I want to thank you for this opportunity.
Ronit C. Rubin
,  Miami, FL

A million times thank you for such a job well done.  It was really remarkable. Sending love and gratitude and so much respect
Anne Brener – Los Angeles, CA

Just a note to say thank you for doing such a fantastic job on the conference.  So many of us were very inspired.  It was a "welcome" spiritual uplifting. Sharing of thoughts and ideas, awesome.  And believe it or not, two taharas were on the calendar when some of us arrived back in Las Vegas.  Bahshairt?  We have already begun discussions about the far west regional to be, G-d willing, held next year in Las Vegas.  The folks at Temple Beth Sholom are thrilled!  Sei Gesund.
Marlowe Mogill – Las Vegas, NV

Dear David,
It isn't over and probably never will be. Just a few more things I want to tell you. I filled out my evaluation Monday night, before the last day's sessions. So I didn't mention Rabbi Reimer or Anne Brener. They get top marks from me.
Also I thought I would share with you the letter I just wrote to Lynn Schustewrman of the Schusterman Foundation. Lynn grew up in Oklahoma City and while we're not friends, I knew her parents well and always write her "fan letters" after some wonder that they have funded. I hope it is ok with you.

June 26, 2003

Dear Lynn,

I returned home at 8 p.m. Tuesday night from the K'vod V'Nichum conference, run by David Zinner, in Rockville, Maryland. This was the first conference ever held gathering people who deal with the ritual and spiritual aspects of visiting the sick, preparing our people for burial and burying them, comforting the mourner, and maintaining our religious traditions. Over and over again we heard, "death is a part of life". Somehow, it is a comfort.

I'm sure that you and the Foundation have received a report describing the leaders who taught us and the topics of the sessions. Everything at this conference was more than worthwhile and it was probably the best run conference I ever attended. It ran on time, the presenters were experts and well prepared. The topics were wonderful and not at all what I would have predicted. The five people, three women and two men, from our Oklahoma City Chevra Kadisha came away from Baltimore literally in awe, dumbstuck.

Personally, my favorite moment at the conference came when Penny from Minneapolis stood up on the last evening of the conference and told us that the seed money for the conference came from a grant from the Star Foundation, which is funded by The Schusterman Foundation. No parent or grandparent ever got more "nachas" from an achievement of an offspring than I felt hearing that you had funded this conference. Well done! Money well spent! I would like some day to visit with you and the Board and tell you about this conference. To see Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal Jews all together, doing the same thing, a mitzvah for which there can never be any thanks…it may be a first.

Thank you. What you do in all Jewish areas is a wonder but this is also a blessing.

With awe and admiration,
Helene Harpman

Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!

The conference was dynamite.  We returned around 8pm Tuesday, made some phone calls, and Margie and I met with four new recruits this afternoon.  We introduced them to the mortuary and some basic training.  Our enthusiasm (thank you!) should be contagious and our group will grow in number and expertise.
Your future conferences will see a greater number of Richmonders.
Every aspect of the weekend was extremely well planned and executed.
Thank you also for the opportunity to taste reconstructionism.  I'm hungry for more!
The sincere goodness of the people attending warmed my heart.
Have pride in a job well done.
Vickie Weitzenhofer – Richmond, VA

I left on Monday evening and did not get a chance to say "goodbye" to you. It was an excellent conference, so very well arranged, covering all details.
My son David, who lives in Los Angeles wants to start a voluntary C.K. in Los Angeles. He claims there is none at present.
I am sending my copy of the program to Rabbi Zohn with a covering letter.
Peter Lunzer, NYC

Since Saturday night, I have been in Rockville, Maryland on my volunteer work, attending the first North American Chevra Kadisha Conference.  About 180 delegates, reflecting congregational Burial Societies (and related cemetery, grief, and sick visit committees).  Congregations from as far as Hawaii, Victoria, and Winnipeg, plus most states.  Dominated by Conservative groups, then Reconstructionist, Reform, and even a few Orthodox.  All meals kosher. The conference site is a large Conservative synagogue in Rockville, Maryland, housing the plenaries, the breakouts, and the meals.  The conference hotel is a Quality Suites nearby with shuttle service back and forth and a good rate.

Lots to share, lots to learn, very good, a great desire to keep the momentum going.

The final discussions had to do with when and where to have the next North American Conference. A delegate from Orlando made a big push for Florida.  I offered to help.  However, what came to my mind was your brand new facility for Jewish Studies, perhaps in December 2004 when the campus is quieter with the break starting.  You might have some academic types who would want to be speakers, also.  You might have some students who would want to help.

Does this sound realistic to you?  Does the new building have the types of setups for plenaries, breakouts, and meals?  I met an Orthodox Rabbi from Aventura who oversees Kashruth in south Florida and he can easily help with the meals, if need be.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would give me your opinion on this and also forward it to the right people at your new Judaic Studies center.  (I realize it is the summer and may be hard to find the right folks to respond,)

Miami in December was quite appealing to the delegates and, with Arthur's involvement, we might even be able to do an affordable side trip to the Seaquarium, and with our other contacts, South Beach, key Biscayne, etc.

Barry E. Pitegoff
Chair, Chevra Kadisha, Temple Israel, Tallahassee