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The Jewish-Living Art of Dying

04/11/2024 11:11:10 AM


Our visiting scholar, Rabbi David Teutsch helped us to begin the difficult conversation about what is important, Jewishly speaking, in how we die. My story at our “We Are All Storytellers” event April 6 was how my mother taught our family to die.

Many of you were not able to attend the most recent, wonderful Story-Telling event; but lucky for you, my friend Kenny Yun made a video of my contribution. If it moves you, please make a donation to Or Shalom as it was a fundraiser. And please read the article below.

Not uncommonly, I hear people say, “I don’t want a funeral or memorial service… I don’t want to burden my family.” I understand that the motivation is humble, and it is true, that a funeral costs some thousands of dollars. However, I want to share with you another view of the picture.

Our rituals have been developed over thousands of years of experience and wisdom to shepherd families through a healthy grieving process. This is in contrast to the avoidance of death in our American culture. Our Jewish tradition pushes out a time, and space in order that mourners may notice, feel and attend to their grieving.

A funeral lays out stepping stones of what to do when one feels as though they are floating in some strange land that has no structure…. The liminal place. We tear a ribbon, or clothing, showing the outward sign of the tear in our hearts. We see the casket. We give a eulogy, we walk with the casket,  and perhaps feel its heft, pausing seven times to show our reluctance for this last journey together. We say a blessing as the casket is lowered into the earth. We hear the thud of the first shovelful of earth as it hits the coffin. We ourselves shovel earth…indelibly making us aware that this is no longer a live person. We say kaddish for the first time. Two lines greet us when we feel like zombies, as we walk between, the lines guiding us homeward with caring eyes. At home, we are served the ‘Meal of Condolence,’ Seudat Hav’ra’ah, when we don’t feel like eating, or, perhaps, are ravenous from not eating…when we are moving stiffly and cannot even fathom fixing a meal.

At the ensuing shiva, even if it doesn’t last a full seven days, we can cry, without having to worry about how we look, or that we ‘need to go to work.’ Family members and friends who knew this person intimately can be together, holding and sharing many years of reminisces in concert; the closest thing to having the person still alive. Guests can ask us, “Tell me about your loved one (or your estranged one)” and we can relieve our hearts of the many stories, and remember.

I could go on. 

I write this out of my love for our community. My plea is that you don’t rob your families of these healing rituals by being modest, and saying, “Oh don’t bother making a funeral for me.” 

In another post, I will talk about cremation. 
Rabbi Me’irah

Sat, July 20 2024 14 Tammuz 5784