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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Jan. 3, 2007 / 13 Teves, 5767

The last kindness

By Ruchama King Feuerman

A novelist researching a volunteer group who perform the rituals of death, confronts the dignity of life


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | I'd always been fascinated by the goings on at the Chevra Kadisha — the ritual burial society which prepares the deceased before being placed in coffins.


In Jewish communities this task — the Tahara, as it is called — is usually performed by the elders. It is considered the highest form of kindness to perform this last act before the grave because there is no payback from the dead. And yet there was small likelihood of my performing this mitzvah, as it was.


While Jewish, I wasn't exactly an elder. Also I was squeamish.


Then I moved to the Passaic/Clifton area of New Jersey. In my new synagogue, there were few elders left; most had moved to Florida or elsewhere.


Should I join the Chevra Kadisha? Or perhaps one had to be invited. I didn't think about it too much. I got sidetracked with my newborn, my first novel which had just come out, and the demands of making ends meet.


A year ago, I got stuck on a scene in my second novel. A hundred and twenty pages into my book, a mystical rabbi dies, and his heartbroken assistant performs a Tahara. I had never read a Tahara scene before in fiction and I wanted to do it justice.


I called up a few members of the Chevra Kadisha and they described, step by step, what actually happens. But I knew it was no good. I had to be there.


I'd never even seen a dead person before. But how could I show up at a ritual burial with a notepad and pen? I wouldn't want any fiction writer at my Tahara.


One night, though, the Chevra Kadisha called. They were stuck for a fourth person. Could I help? Well, I thought. They needed me. It was legitimate, and I showed up a few hours later at a Jewish Chapel off Allwood Road in Clifton. A friendly custodian unlocked the door and let us in.


Actually there were two Taharas going on at the same time, in separate rooms — an atypical night. I was to be the "floater" — called from room to room as needed. Everyone washed and donned yellow plastic robes, gloves, masks, and booties, making me wonder what kind of gory mess I'd actually see when I got inside. I watched the others get busy.


One woman was breaking pottery shards, another was cutting up cloths and filling buckets of water, a third was stuffing a small pillowcase with straw. I was the designated pray-er, the one reciting prayers from a laminated card, depending on what part they were up to. Between prayers, I helped the others.


Eventually my eyes went to one of the deceased, a thin elderly woman from a Jewish nursing home nearby. The woman in the second room looked to have been in her forties.


I marveled at her pretty eyes lined in blue, the pink nail polish perfectly applied to her toe and finger nails. She looked too alive.


Here lay someone who clearly had expected to be doing other things that day. I accidentally brushed against her skin, and my own skin jumped. Even through my plastic gloves I could tell there was no energy in that skin, no life force.


I couldn't have known what dead was until I had touched it.


My hand reached across the woman's body to pass a cloth and someone gently pushed my hand back.


Oh. I remembered from the booklets — the soul was considered to be still hovering near the body, and it was disrespectful to pass things over the torso.


I uttered from the prayer card, "His hands are like rods of gold set with emeralds, his belly is polished ivory, overlaid with sapphires"


As each part of the body was washed, that small section was exposed, and then covered.


It comforted me to know that when I died, my body wouldn't be lying exposed, for even those kind volunteers, but ultimately strangers, to see.


"His legs are pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold. His countenance is like the Lebanon, excellent as the cedars"


Someone asked me how I was doing.


Okay, I said.


I had feared I might faint. Actually, the only thing getting to me was the prayers.


"His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem."


What are they talking about, I thought.


The woman with the pink nail polish — her mouth had become twisted, bloodied and distorted in death. It wasn't 'most sweet.' I couldn't look at her. As for the other deceased, I didn't see any doves eyes, or legs that were pillars of gold.


Why were they describing beautiful bodies? What was I missing here?


I tried to imagine the things this old woman had done with her legs, the meals she had made for her family while her legs supported her, the times she had chased after stray children, the eyes that had looked at a loved one with patience or tenderness, a hand that had made useful or pretty things or held a sick friend.


Were the prayers saying that the body is beautiful because of what you did with it, what you accomplished?


Maybe.


But looking at myself and at the other women moving vitally about in the room I understood that any body that is alive is beautiful, and any body that is dead has lost that claim to beauty forever.


The prayers reminded you of the body's former splendor.


Here in the room I felt its grief.


We took buckets of water and doused the body completely. We chanted, "You are pure," three times.


We dressed the body, no simple matter, plain white clothes, the clothes a priest wore, tying G-d's name into the belt across the waist.


After the pottery shards were placed on various parts, and a faint sprinkling of soil from Israel, we did a final tucking and adjusting for the long evening ahead, then placed the cover on the coffin.


In the end, I remembered enough (sans notepad) to create the scene for my novel. I remembered how a candle was placed at the head of the coffin and how we all gathered around. The group leader turned and in a low, warm voice, addressed the deceased by name.


"We the women of the Chevra Kadisha ask your forgiveness if there was anything we did while performing the Tahara that wasn't respectful or kind enough. We tried to do the best we could."


Again, she said her name, and "Please forgive us. We pray that things go well for you."

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes uplifting stories. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Ruchama King Feuerman is the author, most recently, of "Seven Blessings: A Novel". Comment by clicking here.






© 2007, Ruchama King Feuerman. First published in the NY Times