July 22, 2024
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Thanking Those Who Perform a Chesed Shel Emet

Teaneck—They are the unsung heroes of our community. They are the ones who immediately take action, with very little notice, to help those who have suffered a loss. They are the men and women of the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society).

When there is a death in the Jewish community, these volunteers are the ones who prepare the body for burial through a ritual cleansing (tahara) and then dressing of the body in the required ritual garments (tachritim). Throughout the preparation (men prepare men, women prepare women), they show the meis (dead body) the utmost dignity and respect. They are also the ones who prepare the shiva house by covering the mirrors, bringing in the shiva chairs and extra folding chairs, providing siddurim (prayer books) and reference books and bringing over a Torah. And then they disappear.

The seventh day of the month of Adar (Zayin Adar) is the anniversary of both the birth and death of Moshe Rabbenu. It is said that on this day Hashem acted as the Chevra Kadisha and prepared Moshe’s body for burial. As such, this day has been set aside as a day of introspection and reflection for the members of the Chevra Kadisha. Many spend the day fasting as a kapara (atonement) for any disrespect they may have inadvertently shown a meis they cared for.

Caring for a dead body is referred to as a chesed shel emet (ultimate kindness) as it is truly doing something with no expected thank you in return. Generally these humble men and women of the Chevra Kadisha don’t talk about what they do. They simply do it and ask for no recognition or thanks. However, once a year they gather together, in part to remember those who passed away during the previous year and in part to be able to meet at a happy occasion as opposed to when they normally meet.

While most of the synagogues in town have their own Chevra Kadishas, on Zayin Adar the local Chevras of Teaneck/Bergenfield gather together for a special Mincha service—including the Torah reading that is read on any other public fast day—followed by words of Torah, then Maariv, and finally a seudah (meal) at which they break their fasts. Each year the event is held at a different synagogue. This year it took place on Sunday, March 9, at the Young Israel of Teaneck. Rabbi Pinchas Weinberger, rabbi of the Young Israel of Teaneck, spoke between Mincha and Maariv and again at the seudah. He expressed his admiration and respect for the work that the Chevra Kadisha performs and shared words of Torah.

Sam Levi of the Beth Abraham Chevra Kadisha sums up the work of the Chevra Kadisha well. “An important component of the Chevra is to alleviate the anxiety of the people who have just suffered a loss and help them so that they don’t have to deal with these difficult decisions at such a vulnerable time. Taking care of the meis is something that has to be done. When something has to be done it is best that it be done by people who do it frequently and know what they’re doing.”

Barbara Gildin, a member of the Beth Aaron Chevra Kadisha couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, she was on the receiving end of the Chevra’s services several months ago. “The peace of mind you get when there’s something you don’t have to worry about is hard to describe,” she reflects. “There are so many end-of-life decisions you have to think about. The one thing you don’t have to worry about in this town is who’s going to take care of the meis. We are blessed.”

Her husband, Norman Gildin, agrees and adds, “Even if you’re squeamish and don’t feel you can do a tahara, there are still other ways you can get involved in the Chevra Kadisha. We’ve had the opportunity to serve as shomrim (guards for the meis) and that is a big Kavod (honor).”

By Sara Kosowsky Gross

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