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Jewish Traditions and Ritual Around Death and Mourning

Volunteer members of a Chevra Kadisha can participate in a continuum of Jewish end-of-life practices including visiting the sick (bikkur cholim), performing the sacred Jewish rituals of preparing the body before burial (taharah) and guarding the body between death and burial (shmirah), arranging prayer services in the home following a death (shiva minyanim), organizing community educational events about death and dying, and performing other forms of community support for the dying and the bereaved. Volunteer members of the Chevra Kadisha are available to participate in any and all forms of this sacred work. You can reach the Chevra Kaidsha at ck@bethelberkeley.org. 

BIKKUR CHOLIM

Visiting those who are sick is an important act of care in Jewish tradition. Visits with congregants can be made in the home, hospital, or other living facility. Chevra Kadisha volunteers have received training on providing emotional support and companionship to those who are ill. The goal of these visits is to provide support to the individual who is sick as well as to provide emotional support and respite for their caregivers. 

NICHUM

Nichum is the Hebrew word for “Comfort” and Nichum Avelim refers to the comforting of mourners. Chevra Kadisha volunteers provide comfort and support to those in our community facing difficult times and those in mourning after a death. Volunteers may make phone calls, write cards, deliver consolation challahs, share resources, and/or provide in-person visits. 

TAHARA

The ritual act of purification following death. Specially trained volunteers ritually wash and prepare for burial the bodies of those who have died. After a body is cleansed, it is dressed in simple shrouds known as tachrichim. Some people are also wrapped with a tallit over the shrouds.

SHMIRAH

The guarding of the body between death and burial. Volunteers known as shomrim sit with the casket from the time tahara is completed to the time of burial. Customarily, shomrim read psalms or other sacred texts of comfort during this time and a memorial candle is lit and burns continuously. Virtual shmirah, when shomrim are not physically present with the casket, has become more common and allows for volunteers to engage in this spiritual act of accompanying the soul of the deceased even from afar.

SHIVA

Shiva is the Hebrew word for seven, and it is used to refer to the first seven days after burial. Traditionally, mourners “sit shiva” meaning they remain home and do not engage in the typical activities of daily life, such as work, following the death of a close loved one. Prayer services may be conducted on each of the days, and community members may be invited to participate and support the bereaved. Clergy often lead the services, and Chevra Kadisha volunteers trained by clergy are also available to lead shiva minyans in the homes of families in mourning.

YAHRZEIT/AZKARAH AND YIZKOR

On the anniversary of a loved ones' death, (known as "Yahrzeit" in Yiddish, or "Azkarah" in Hebrew), Kaddish can be said during any Shabbat service. Yahrzeit/Azkarah reminders will be sent to Congregation members in advance of the specific Shabbat. We welcome anyone who is in mourning to say Kaddish with us. Yizkor is the traditional remembrance service held four times per year when the community joins together in remembering those who have died. All are welcome.

FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS

The Tel Shalom Burial Association has been burying our loved ones since 1968. Tel Shalom has a beautiful, private section within Gan Shalom Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Briones. Gan Shalom is located at 1100 Bear Creek Road in Briones. The cemetery is run by Sinai Memorial Chapel

Though the Tel Shalom section of Gan Shalom is limited to members of Congregation Beth El and Temple Beth Hillel, other sections of the cemetery are open to all members of the Jewish community, including members of interfaith families and those who are unaffiliated. Tel Shalom also has a private section within Rolling Hills Memorial Park in Richmond, located at 4100 Hilltop Drive. This was the first location of the Tel Shalom Burial Association. There are only a few plots left at Rolling Hills. There are no pairs of plots adjacent to one another available in the Tel Shalom section.

One of the most stressful issues when there is a death is all the planning that is required. Visiting the cemetery, picking out a gravesite, and dealing with financial matters all while one is grieving, can be stressful. It truly helps to plan ahead and take care of these tasks while you are healthy and can make unhurried and informed decisions. Our Beth El volunteer Chevra Kadisha members are available to discuss these issues with you and can be reached at ck@bethelberkeley.org. For information about purchasing plots in the Tel Shalom section of Gan Shalom, please call  Sinai Memorial Chapel, at (877) 895-0359.

As always, for any questions surrounding the spiritual and/or ritual nature of death and dying, please do not hesitate to contact Rabbi Rebekah Stern through the Congregation Beth El office.

More Information on Jewish Traditions for the first Eleven Months of Mourning
A summary of Jewish traditions for the first eleven months of mourning can be found here:

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/timeline-of-jewish-mourning/

Wed, February 28 2024 19 Adar I 5784