Re-Engaging and Re-Inspiring Members
Knowledge is Power, Power Engages
One of the more difficult challenges facing chevrot today is keeping their members engaged, inspired, and involved. When members are participating in an active organization, they get more engaged than if the organization only meets annually or on an ad-hoc basis. Regardless of whether a chevrah does taharot frequently or infrequently, it can be very effective to meet regularly to learn together or do other activities, such as sewing tachrichim, making aronim, or cooking meals of consolation.
When members are knowledgeable about their work and have the opportunity to use that learning, they become more engaged. This happens when they can share their wisdom and learning through teaching others, at community events, or perhaps by being an example during taharot or shmirah rituals. Giving members opportunities to become more learned about Chevrah Kadisha work, its history, evolution, rituals, liturgy, and practical applications, empowers them and inspires them to become more involved.
Many successful chevrot schedule regular activities, some even have multiple groups meeting weekly. These can be study sessions—for example to learn liturgy or study historical texts behind the liturgy. Or these can be practical sessions, such as to sew tachrichim or making a pall cover.
The central point here is that when we offer opportunities to chevrah members on a regular basis, this holy work resides more prominently in their daily awareness. As a result, they become more and more involved and engaged in all aspects of the chevrah and its work.
Kavod v’Nichum staff members can provide ideas and guidance as to how to set up an on-going educational program, training teachers within the chevrah to lead learning sessions, and helping to brainstorm various practical activities that can benefit both the chevrah and the community. Contact us for more information about this.
“When members’ needs are met, they are more likely to be engaged in the work.” This idea is the fundamental idea behind the Fort Collins, Colorado, Chevrah Kadisha, a chevrah with over 100 members, most of whom request more and more involvement. This chevrah has extended their scope to include everything from visiting the sick (bikkur cholim), through taharah, shmirah, and attending funerals, to sewing tachrichim (shrouds), making aronim (caskets), supporting shiva minyanim, making meals of consolation, and more.
How do they do it? By respecting the needs of their members. Simple, right? They begin by suggesting that everyone in the community is automatically a member of the chevrah, and they give newcomers many options through which to participate. Members choose not only how to participate, but also communicate what aspects they want to be involved with and which aspects they are not interested in. Chevrah leaders then find an area that is of most interest to them.
This approach requires a central champion to carefully shepherd this effort. But once on board, it works very well. The lesson for the rest of us is pretty obvious: show respect to members’ needs, and they will be more likely to jump in. Give opportunity to everyone, and most likely almost everyone will join in. This is holy work, and everyone wants to help with holy work if they can. So give them jobs they can do. It’s amazing how well this works!
Engaging Clergy to Inspire
Clergy are central pillars in the fabric of community. By engaging them in some aspect of the chevrah, educating them about the history, benefits, and rituals involved, they can become powerful allies for Jewish death practices. Our goal is to help make their congregation and the larger Jewish community aware of the beauty, power, and depth of Jewish rituals and practice at the end of life, and to promote Jewish burial for all Jews. Clergy can naturally sign on to this goal and become central to this effort.
Unfortunately, many clergy receive little or no background in Jewish end-of-life practice, other than how to run a funeral. When we inspire them to become involved in chevrah work themselves, the community gains a motivational engine through which multiple generations can benefit.
Clergy are often the ones who inspire chevrah membership. It’s also very helpful to include clergy in chevrah trainings and educational events. Everyone benefits when this happens, as they can bring their wisdom and learning to enhance such trainings and community events, uplifting and deepening the learning. Their very presence at these events encourages congregant involvement.
For some clergy, the way to start this process might be to give them ideas for drashot on Jewish death-related practices (such as for Yom Kippur), along with resources through which they can become more aware of the big picture, and then slowly more involved locally. Such resources could include various taharah manuals, books that give an overview of Jewish death practices (like Jewish Rites of Death, Stories of Beauty and Transformation and The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning), and links to websites such as this one.