March 13, 2013 | 8:00 am
Posted by Susan Esther Barnes
I’m not big on making plans. I tend to be an in-the-moment kind of gal. And when I do make plans, I usually hedge. In general, I won’t say, “I’ll see you on Shabbat,” unless I add, “God willing.” Or I say, “Yes, I plan to be there,” rather than, “Yes, I will be there.”
I do this because I know plans can change. It seems a bit haughty to act like I know for sure what I will be doing at any point in the future, because I know there are a million things that could happen to change all that. So, it was a bit uncharacteristic for me to post on Twitter, as I did a while ago, a Tweet that said, “I’m looking forward to my Shabbat nap tomorrow!”
That was the plan. Fittingly, God rewarded my indiscretion by changing it.
The next morning, I was standing at the door to the synagogue before services, handing out programs and answering questions from visitors, when a congregant came up to me and said, “The rabbi wants to see you. It’s a bit of an emergency.”
I went into the rabbi’s office, where she explained that a congregant had called about a death in the family. The congregant wanted to talk about having us do taharah (ritually washing and preparing the body for burial) for her loved one, but with services about to start the rabbi didn’t have the time to speak with her just then. Neither did she want the bereaved family to have to wait three hours for a response.
So, the rabbi called the family back, introduced me, and then handed me the phone. I assured them that we would be happy to do the taharah, and that, as volunteers, we don’t charge anything to do so. I said this despite the fact that the body was at a funeral home at which we had not yet done a taharah, and I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out.
After we got off the phone, I left voice mail message for our other rabbi, who is the clergy contact for our chevra kadisha, the group of people who does the taharah work. I wasn’t sure how we normally coordinate with a funeral home for taharah, let alone a new one with which we’d had no contact yet.
After I left that message, I walked out of the rabbi’s office to find an overflow crowd at services. I helped to put out additional chairs, and to give everyone a prayer book. By the time I had gotten the latecomers settled and had finally taken a seat myself, my cell phone vibrated (silently), and I ducked out of services to answer it.
It was the other rabbi calling back, confirming that we don’t have a relationship with that particular funeral home, but he would contact them to try to make arrangements. He also told me that, although we normally have a congregant volunteer to coordinate the taharah team each month, we didn’t have anyone signed up to do so that month. I told him I would take care of getting a team together for the taharah.
By the time I sat down again, it was only a few minutes before the Torah service. I had promised to help on the bimah with that part of the service, since the cantor was out of town, and with two b’nai mitzvah taking place that day, it helps to have a second person to make sure the family members get to where they need to be, to hold up the card with the aliyah prayers on it for them, etc., so I jumped back up to help with that.
After services, I picked up a text message from the rabbi in charge of the chevra kadisha, with the name and phone number of the person at the funeral home. I called the funeral home, and discussed possible times for the taharah. I also garnered some necessary information about their facilities.
I loaded up my car with the necessary taharah supplies. Then I headed for home and, instead of hitting the couch for my Twitter-announced nap, I headed to my computer (which usually remains off on Shabbat) to pull up the list of people trained to do taharah, and I started making phone calls.
By the time I had a team together, had confirmed the date and time of the taharah with the funeral home, had communicated with the chevra kadisha (some of whom I had left messages for but had not spoken with yet), and had notified the deceased’s family and both rabbis that we were all set, it was early evening. Too late for that nap.
Rather than the relaxing day I had planned, it had been a whirlwind day. I realized I hadn’t gotten a whole lot of praying done, either, let alone napping.
Still, I like to think I was able to bring some measure of shalom into that Shabbat.
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