Why I Joined Our Hevra Kaddisha

How one woman, in the middle of her own year of mourning, joined this "holy society" of those who prepare the dead for burial--and what it has meant to her.

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One Needs a Special Sensitivity and Respect for Life

A good number of our hevra members are young women, some with very young children. Members are expected to maintain absolute secrecy about everything they see and hear at a taharah, so as to ensure complete privacy and confidentiality for the deceased. The family usually does not even know which members of the hevra were involved in the taharah of their beloved departed one. In some rare cases the family requests the names, so as to be able to express personally their gratitude to each member that extended herself to give the last act of kindness to their dear ones.

Once a year, on the yahrzeit [the anniversary of the death] of Moshe Rabbenu ["Moses our teacher"--the biblical Moses], the seventh day of the month of Adar, we (like most hevra kaddishas all over the world) get together for an annual gathering. The men make a siyyum of the Mishnah (a ceremonial conclusion of the study of a tractate), which is followed by a festive meal, a s'eudah shel mitzvah, in which both men and women of the hevra participate. The chairpersons make a brief speech, reporting on the state and the membership of the hevra.

We are always happy if we have not had to meet many times in the line of duty. With such a group, the traditional wish, "Let's meet in simchas!"[on happy occasions] becomes deeply meaningful. But as long as there is human life, a proud and devoted hevra should be a part of every vibrant Jewish community.

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Judy Freudenstein is the Co-Chair of the Women's Chevra at the Riverdale Jewish Center.