PHOTOS: Shroud crowd: Sandy Axel, left, assesses donated fabric to check it for holes, stains, tears, etc. before it can be cut into tachrichim components.
Below right, sewers create a set of tachrichim (shrouds): Michnasayim (pants), K’tonet (shirt), Kittel (robe) and Mitznephet (head covering). A complete set also includes a sovev (wrapping cloth) and a small bag.
BY DEBORAH MOON
Portland’s Jewish community is fortunate to have two volunteer “holy societies” that prepare the deceased for burial according to Jewish tradition – Chevra Kavod HaMet and The Hevra Kadisha of Portland. Tahara (purification) is considered the ultimate kindness, a mitzvah for which one cannot be thanked. (See below for Zoom programs on Jewish end of life.)
Both holy societies, which each have men’s and women’s sections, need more volunteers due to the age of current volunteers.
Chevra Kavod HaMet needs men and women since the average age of volunteers is 65. “It’s time to pass it on to the next generation,” says Chair Sharon Fendrich. The Chevra performs tahara for Jews in Portland and beyond who request it, including Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and nonaffiliated.
“People think it is a secret society,” she says, noting that participants do not share for whom they perform tahara. “It’s not. We do the work that needs to be done quietly, respectfully, modestly.”
“We need help,” says Fendrich. “Even if you are curious, we are happy to talk.” For information about the final mitzvah of the lifecycle, visit chevrakavodhamet.org or email ChevraKavodHaMet@gmail.com.
Hevra Kadisha of Portland Chair Michael Rosenberg says the Hevra, “provides service to any departed in strict adherence to the instruction of our posek (halachic decider) Rabbi Elchanon Zohn of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha (nasck.org).”
The Hevra welcomes any who want to participate, but draws most of its volunteers from the Orthodox or observant community, which is “weighted to young families,” says Donna Kuttner, who coordinates the women volunteers. “These women have children and have to arrange childcare. ”
Rosenberg says that he never has trouble getting a team of men together within minutes of posting a tahara request on WhatsApp. Even if the timing is inconvenient, he says, “It’s not like we have a choice in the matter. It has to be done, and not doing it is not an option.” He welcomes any men interested to contact him at 503-519-2454 or email@example.com.
Kuttner is actively seeking more women to add to the Hevra roster. To learn more, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not everyone is comfortable doing tahara, “taking care of the holy vessel that held a soul,” says Sandy Axel, who has been a Chevra volunteer since 2008. But everyone is welcome to join the “Shroud Crowd,” which meets monthly to sew (no experience needed) the burial garments the Chevra needs. The group also welcomes family members who want to help make “clothing a loved one will wear for their final rest.” Email email@example.com.
NOTE: Tahara is free, but help with other burial expenses for those who cannot afford it is available from Hesed Shel Emet.
Hesed Shel Emet (“unrequited kindness”) provides Jewish burial resources for members of the Jewish community in Oregon and SW Washington in circumstances when the individual or the individual’s family needs support – “so that all Jews can be buried in dignity.” The Oregon Board of Rabbis and the Jewish Agency Council of Oregon came together in 2009 to care for the burial of those who cannot afford it. HesedShelEmetPDX@gmail.com.
A Jewish Ending: An Introduction to dying, death, mourning & beyond
Chevra Kavod HaMet will discuss 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.