This page includes: recordings of the sessions, links to PDFs of presentations, links to recommended resources, answers to all questions asked, etc. Scroll down the entire page.
Talking About Death Won’t Kill You: A 3-part series on Zoom
7pm on February 24, March 10 and March 31, 2022
In this 3-part series participants learned how Judaism approaches the last phase of the life cycle. Tradition provides a path both for the person who is dying, and for those who love them. We discussed how you can be prepared to make practical and personal decisions about the time before death, the moment of passing, the ritual preparations for burial, the interment options, the stages of mourning, and beliefs in the afterlife. Session leaders included: Rabbi Ariel Stone of Shir Tikvah; Community Chaplain, Rabbi Barry Cohen; and Rabbi Eve Posen from Neveh Shalom. This program was sponsored by the Oregon Board of Rabbis and Chevra Kavod HaMet (the Chevra Kadisha).
February 24: Rituals of Jewish burial and modern eco-burial
A Plain Pine Box: A Return to Simple Jewish Funerals and Eternal Traditions
by Arnold Goodman
March 10: Jewish Rituals on Caring for Loved Ones When They Die, and How to Prepare Ourselves with Rabbi Barry Cohen
The following presentation (main content begins at the 15min mark) by Gerald Cohen and Rabbi Ariel Stone covers Advance Directive, POLST, Healthcare Advocate, ethical will, Power of Attorney (POA), estate planning, wills and trusts, and much more.
Extensive information and worksheets on how to advance plan:
The Alef-Bet of Death & Dying as a Jew: A Guide for the Dying out of Jewish Traditional Sources
by Rabbi Ariel Stone
A Time to Mourn, a time to comfort
by Dr. Ron Wolfson
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande
We Carry Each Other
by Eric and Sharon Langshur with Mary Beth Sammons
When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
How we Die
by Sherwin Nuland
Death without Denial: Grief without Apology
by former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts
Western Attitudes towards Death
by Phillipe Aries
March 31: Jewish Grieving and Beliefs in the Afterlife with Rabbi Eve Posen
Mourning and Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing
by Rabbi Anne Brener
Living When a Loved One Has Died
by Earl Grollman
Making Loss Matter
by Rabbi David Wolpe
Does the Soul Survive? A Jewish Journey to Belief in Afterlife, Past Lives & Living with Purpose
by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz
Q&A from the sessions:
When the body is taken from the home, hospital …. Is there a “coverlet” that can go over the body bag? I have not seen this but I would like to make one that is white on white, subtle but dignified.
**This is a very beautiful idea. If your heart is calling to do this, then you absolutely should. Depending on where the death occurs, we have heard of some facilities having a type of coverlet (called a pall), which can cover the body. Our suggestion would be that whomever is with your loved one at the time of death (in hospital: nursing staff, at home: family/caregivers, etc.), know this is a step to be done. One has already has been created for the Chevra Kavod haMet and is kept at Holman’s. It is used for green burials to cover the deceased during the time of transport til burial.
Where can I be buried in Portland? Do I need to buy a plot or two?
**There are many Jewish cemeteries in the Portland area. You can also choose to be buried in a location of your choosing. If working with a Jewish cemetery which is owned by a congregation, they may require membership to secure a burial plot. Other Jewish cemeteries are open to non-members. You should secure the number of plots you foresee needing (married couple, family plots, etc.)
How does the Chevra Kavod Hamet support jewish practices around death?
**The commitment of any Chevra Kadisha is to, at the minimum, provide tahara for the deceased. We also provide shmira from just after the time of the tahara to the time the funeral home transports the deceased to the funeral. When we are able we provide shmira from as close to the time of death as we can, until the funeral. The procedures/ritual manual the Chevra uses for each tahara was meticulously crafted. It incorporates the traditional sequence of steps for a tahara, and the liturgy which accompanies these steps. Some elements of minhag (local custom) have been interwoven, such as using Hebrew and English, additional steps to honor the deceased, and moments of reflection and kavannah (intention).
I’d like to know how I can be involved in helping others (family members) through the process of burying a loved one, just as I was helped when my mother in law died.
**This is a beautiful thought and intention. Attending these sessions will help teach you more about all of the nuances in Jewish end of life practices. Whatever sounds interesting to you likely has a way for you to assist. Just reach out to us and we can help you on your journey to work on what calls to you. The most important tool you will have is education. Learn whatever you can, from any source. It’s important to always keep your eye and heart on Judaism’s focus on honoring and providing support for the dying, the deceased, and the mourner. Learning how to comfort someone, both in the traditional ways, but also the current best practices for assisting someone experiencing grief can also help. Most importantly after educating yourself is educating others so they can feel empowered to make decisions for themselves.
Does cremation choice exist in Judaism?
**Traditionally, no. Jewish law and tradition consider cremation as destruction of property. Jewish mysticism, or Kabbalah, also holds that the soul does not immediately depart the body. Rather, it slowly leaves the body as it decomposes; cremation therefore is considered to cause pain, even after death. Judaism also holds that the vessel that contains a soul (the body) is just as holy as a torah scroll. In fact, the casket is called an aron, the same word we use for the aron kodesh, where the torah is stored in a synagogue. In addition, cremation is extremely toxic for the environment, and an unnecessary expense. From time to time, however, we have been asked to perform tahara for someone who wants to be cremated. We have decided we are willing to do that, but it is rare. In the Orthodox Chevra Kadisha, the Portland Hevra, this is not allowed.
Why is it so important for us to be buried and not cremated and what are the natural alternatives to cremation?
** The Torah teaches us multiple times that we are to bury our deceased / return them to the earth. See above for more information on cremation. In addition to the response above, for many Jews the thought of cremation is a traumatic one, when considering the Holocaust. There are many natural alternatives to cremation. The first is the traditional Jewish burial in a “plain pine box” with no adornment and no metal parts. There is no cushioning inside the casket. The shrouded person is laid to rest inside. Holes are pre-drilled in the casket to allow the deceased to be connected to the earth. The second most known option is green burial. In this format there is no casket used. The shrouded person is secured to a lowering board with natural ties. There are other ways to perform other types of green burials, but many of these methods are still being considered for permissibility in Judaism
Can I be buried on my own land?
**The short answer is yes. This is the link with all of the information you need. It is absolutely possible to arrange to have a tahara if you would like one. We can come to your location and perform the burial preparation there, or with you. A rabbi or Jewish lay leader can also officiate on your property.
Specific contact info for PDX providers with an understanding of Judaic tradition and burial (funeral homes, cremation services, & other options)
**Please see our Resources page for the local funeral homes who are most familiar with Jewish death traditions. There are no cremation services associated with Jewish tradition as cremation is not traditional. Contacting any synagogue will lead you to good answers as well. You’re also welcome to reach out to us.
What are the considerations for estate planning purposes?
What do I need to know about medical directives?
Please see the presentation above entitled Planning Ahead.
How do I leave instructions with my congregation and the funeral home about our wishes?
It depends on which instructions you want to address.
1) Create a binder in which you will keep all of the important papers you will create.
2) To ensure you cover everything and feel like you have been thorough in taking care of your concerns, you should reach out to your congregation and schedule a meeting with a clergy member.
2) Watch the presentation video above called “Planning Ahead”. Take all the steps suggested.
3) Read through this website and become familiar with the Jewish end of life wishes of tahara and shmira.
4) Call the funeral home (and cemetery if it is not owned by your congregation) to make sure you have your plots, and understand the costs.
5) Once you feel that you have been thorough, make sure all important family members and friends know your wishes and have copies of important papers / medical directives.
6) Send us an email with any other questions.
What are the Jewish philosophies and beliefs around life while approaching death?
Please view the presentations on this page. If you have further questions please reach out to us.
What is a person’s responsibility when a Jewish friend dies suddenly, leaves no religious plans, and has been secular his adult life without “overstepping”? I said kaddish for him during shloshim. Two other friends performed a non-formal tahara and another friend said kaddish during the non-religious funeral. I was told the family appreciated my gesture. As far as I know there was no religious activity from the family who were in a different country.
Asking about “responsibility” is subjective. If someone is an Orthodox jew, their religious practices will be much different from a jew who is not. It sounds to me that you gave your friend the utmost respect and honor. And that is is what Judaism calls upon us to do. (And to the best of our abilities honor them in the way they practiced their Judaism). Judaism is also very forgiving in this area. We are asked to do our best, to ask forgiveness from the deceased for any inadvertent perceived negative moments/indignities which may have occurred during their care, and to be fully present in all of these moments. Judaism also calls upon us to comfort the mourner to extent we can. Again, it sounds to me that you and your friend’s friends offered a beautiful recognition of and appreciation for your friend’s life.
How do you cope with helping your parent on hospice?
You must know the qualifications for hospice. Different diagnoses have different criteria for admission into hospice care. There are two paths to honor and support your loved one while they travel their journey on hospice (or end of life care managed by someone else, if they are not approved for hospice). (And, please, always do your best to remember that you must find ways for even a modicum of self-care. Seek assistance with figuring out how to do that.)
The logistics: Take care of these elements so that they are complete and cannot be a source of stress for you, or your loved one. Ask the hospice provider questions like: what do I need to know about the stages of this process? What paperwork do I need to complete? What medical supplies should I make sure are on hand? What will happen towards the end and in the moments of vigil/passing? Ask for any resources they would suggest to you.
The emotional: Firstly, please give yourself permission to feel your feelings. It sounds cliché, but this is critical. You are giving so much to your parent, and you will run out of energy. You must refuel yourself. Emotions can be extremely painful, and can be overwhelming. They need to be the way they are. Otherwise they get stuck and can be more difficult to deal with than needed. You must take time for yourself to cry, seek support from loved ones and friends, do things which fulfill you. You may want to judge yourself that you’re even contemplating these things. You may deal with thoughts like, “how can I think about myself when they are suffering” or “surely they would want me to take care of myself.” Try to remember this: Judaism calls on us to honor and respect the dying. Listen to your heart and do what you can, and try not to make yourself suffer. You also have no obligation to be the primary or sole caregiver. There are many places you can ask for help, even if it only a few hours a week.
How can I make sure my death is graceful?
The way you approach death should be based on your own spirituality. You must also ensure that you share those beliefs with the loved ones and friends you expect will be with you when your end-of-life begins. If those individuals may not be in agreement with your practices, you should consider finding others to assist you with your desires, and make those wishes clear in writing and verbally (both for the ritual of your passing and for the people you want to assist you with carrying out these wishes). Research rituals for dying, from other cultures which may have elements you would like to incorporate into your end-of-life.
Since we never know when our end (or incapacitation) will come, the more in advance you can plan, the more peace of mind and heart you can have. Judaism traditionally doesn’t have specific directives or suggestions for making death graceful. But it does tell us to live each day as if tomorrow could be our last. It asks all of us to practice loving kindness towards ourselves and others, every day.