By Shelley Hubal
On a Sunday afternoon several weeks ago, approximately 20 members of our Jewish community gathered in the Temple Israel social hall for a training. Our panel of three trainers, all women, came from New Jersey, Colorado and Massachusetts. The Chevra Kadisha, which literally translates to “holy society,” was the subject of the training.
To honor the deceased, the Chevra Kadisha performs two rituals: 1) taharah, purification, the process of cleansing and preparing a body for internment; and 2) shmirah, the ritual of watching over the body, which usually involves sitting near the body and reading psalms.
We learned that the rituals performed by the Chevra Kadisha are considered “chesed shel emet,” pure loving kindness, because the acts performed can never be repaid. They are done purely out of love. Above all else, respect and compassion for the dead and their loved ones are the intentions of the Chevra Kadisha. The panel also emphasized that the work of the Chevra Kadisha is not secret, but it is private.
Personally, I have always been driven by the need to be of service and have searched for sacred moments of quiet dignity and respect. Yes, I would be nervous if I were ever called upon to perform taharah, but the training was empowering and taharah is performed by a small team, so you are not alone.
Here in Binghamton, we have a Chevra Kadisha that has been performing these sacred rituals for decades. They are a compassionate and caring group and, in keeping with the tradition of Chevra Kadisha, my sense is they do not want or need recognition. However, they do need new volunteers. If you are interested in finding out more, give me a call at the Federation office at 724-2332.
Members of the Chevra Kadisha never “want” to be called upon, but, when the call comes, we can all be grateful they are there. I, for one, am honored to now be counted among a group of our community’s most compassionate. Sending my love and respect to all the new and seasoned members of this “holy society.”