Lee Melhado, Chair (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Members: Anonymous by tradition
The Chevra Kadisha, the local Jewish burial society, provides preparation of the dead for traditional Jewish burial, education about Jewish death and mourning practices, and respectful, low-cost burial for the indigent. All work is performed by volunteers who give their time anonymously as a hesed shel emet, an act of true loving-kindness, to the bereaved family and to the Jewish community. Costs of materials, such as the traditional shroud, are covered by contributions from families served and by CU Jewish Federation.
In keeping with the wide range of ritual observance in the local Jewish community, the Chevra Kadisha offers several options to bereaved families: 1) providing watchers for the body, 2) preparing the body for burial, 3) providing watchers and preparing the body, and 4) neither. Whatever choice the family makes, the Chevra Kadisha is available to help plan and coordinate arrangements and to send out community email announcements that include biographical information about the deceased, the time and location of the funeral, burial, meal of consolation, and shiva, and where to send condolences and memorial contributions.
During 2010-11, the Chevra Kadisha participated in four burials. Currently, about 60 volunteers serve as shomrim (those who watch over the body from death to burial) and about 30 serve on tahara teams (those who wash and dress the deceased and place the body in a casket). Additional volunteers are always welcome (367-6592, email@example.com). Training is provided.
Jewish tradition invites us to think about our mortality long before our own deaths. The tradition of writing an ethical will -- a letter to one's children and descendants expressing the deepest principles and most important actions we hope they will carry on -- demands that we anticipate and accept the fact that our lifespan is finite.
Jewish ethical wills may be said to have begun with the biblical patriarch Jacob delivering his wishes orally to his children gathered around his deathbed. Jewish texts ancient to modern contain many examples of ethical wills that parents have left to their children.
If dying must be faced, then perhaps -- like living -- it must also be taught. From the world of Hasidism come many tales of rebbes (rabbinic spiritual leaders) who consciously -- or simply by the legacy of the stories of their deaths -- teach their followers about how to face death. Many of these stories reflect the belief that one can and should approach the process of dying consciously. One rabbi says, "I am learning how to leave this world." Another goes to visit his closest disciples to say farewell. A third teaches his followers a new niggun (a wordless tune), asks them to sing it back to him and departs this world. Full MyJewishLearning article "On Dying"
About Death & Mourning
Judaism encourages us to both acknowledge our mortality and embrace the sacredness and import of life on earth. Jewish teachings on what awaits the soul (and the body) after death --and in a hoped-for World to Come -- are quite varied and therefore this realm remains somewhat mysterious, contributing to Judaism's focus on this world and what can be done in a lifetime.
Death -- an end to a human life -- is seen as both tragic and inevitable; knowing that death must come, Jewish teachers over the ages have modeled the need to face death squarely and the hope that a life well-lived will be rewarded with eternal life. While each death is in some sense a tragedy, to some thinkers it also represents a kind of homecoming.
A corpse -- in the words of one writer, "the vehicle of the soul while the deceased was still alive on earth" -- must be treated with great dignity and care. Many laws and customs have developed over the years regarding the care of the body of the deceased, from the moment of death continuing through the burial.
Many contemporary Jews know little about Jewish practices surrounding death and mourning; Jewishly unprepared for death, they can be denied the meaning of ritual at this important time and the opportunity for consolation through ancient traditions. Full MyJewishLearning article "About Death & Mourning"
Shiva Traditions & Customs
After the burial, mourners return home to sit Shiva for seven days. Shiva is a Hebrew word for seven. During the Shiva week, mourners are expected to remain at home. There are seven relatives for whom a Jew is required to observe Shiva: father, mother, brother or sister, son, daughter, or spouse. During the Shiva week prayer services are usually conducted at the Shiva house. Shiva Traditions & Customs
A Jewish Funeral
Many of the Jewish funeral traditions are familiar to the Jewish people. However, when a death occurs, it can be difficult to remember traditions and the meaning behind them. This section provides an overview of Jewish funeral traditions. For a more comprehensive look, download our guide. A Jewish Funeral
Mount Hope Cemetery
Mount Hope Cemetery in Urbana has a Jewish section that is owned and administered by Sinai Temple. The Jewish section, established prior to the founding of Sinai Temple in 1904, serves the entire Jewish community of Champaign-Urbana. Purchase of burial plots can be arranged by contacting the Cemetery Committee of Sinai Temple or Alice Berkson @ 217-356-4829.
Saying Goodbye To Loved Ones