This week in אלונים (Alonim, “Oak Trees,” for 5th and 6th grades), we had special visitors from a Chicago-area Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society). Our two guests, Rabbi Larry and Dr. Larry, spoke with us about Jewish rituals surrounding burial. Rabbi and Dr. Larry shared with us their perspective that every person is קדוש (kadosh, holy). They are both volunteers with a progressive Chevra Kadisha that prepares bodies from five Chicagoland area synagogues for burial.
We learned A LOT and had many questions. We spoke about washing and purification steps, the garments placed on the bodies, the special way in which the garments are tied with knots that look like the letter ש (shin), and the ways in which the Chevra Kadisha treats the body with utmost respect. As each step in the process takes place, the Chevra Kadisha recites phrases from the Torah. At the end of the process, three pieces of broken pottery are placed on the person’s eyes and mouth, to represent a return to dust. There are no major mistakes that can be made in this process because it is not a ritual that was commanded through the Torah. It is a tradition. In this ritual, the casket is called an ארון (aron, ark), which is the same name that is given to the ark where the Torah sits in synagogues; Rabbi and Dr. Larry offered us the perspective that this is because every person is holy, similar to how the Torah is holy.
Alonimers had a powerful experience learning about Chevra Kadisha. They were curious and thoughtful throughout our session. They were mature despite the intense topic of our conversation. Alonimers learned a lot, and I am looking forward to seeing how they process this conversation and relate it back to our theme, קדושה (kedushah, holiness).