Jewish Press of Tampa

Chevra Kaddisha, Tampa’s burial society seeks additional members

The Tampa Chevra Kaddisha/Burial Society is in search of new members to help with the sacred preparation of the deceased for burial.

“Although it may seem scary at first, the experience is usually a peaceful and moving one that allows you to give to someone in a most moving way,” said Amy Wasser, a burial society member. “The steps of the ritual are simple to learn and experienced members of the society will be with you to model, train and explain. The bond that is formed by the people who perform this task is a very special one.”

The Midrash notes that: “The highest act of Gemilut Chesed (acts of loving kindness) is that which is done for the dead, for there can never be any thought of repayment.” (Tanchuma Vayechi 107A)

The Chevra Kaddisha, or sacred Society, is a group of men and women who prepare the deceased for burial through the ritual of Tahara. Tahara means purity. Only men prepare men, and women prepare women.

“The body, referred to as the ‘met’ in Hebrew, is cleansed, ritually purified through the pouring of water, then dressed in plain linen shrouds,” explains Ethel Pila, chair of the burial society for the past 30 years. “A number of psalms from Jewish liturgy are recited throughout the ceremony. During the ritual, the ‘met’ is treated with the utmost respect. Unnecessary speech is prohibited, no part of the body is ever exposed unless it is being washed and group members must not turn their backs on the dead, as this is an expression of disrespect.”

Upon completion, the deceased is placed in the casket and earth from Israel is sprinkled. The casket is closed and the group asks for forgiveness from the ‘met’ for anything they may have done, intentional or not, which may have offended them. The members performing the ritual then respectfully back out from the room.

Pila said the burial society is “hoping to expand our ranks and bring aboard a new generation of women and men interested in performing this sacred ritual.”

“Knowing the comfort it brings to the family, that their loved one was taken care of with gentle, loving kindness, has made my participation so meaningful throughout the years,” said Pila.

No previous knowledge, experience or Hebrew reading is required.

The burial society is a major component of a larger organization called Chesed Shel Emet, the Jewish Benevolent Society of Greater Tampa – incorporated in 1990 as a tax-deductible, charitable organization. It assists local Jewish nonprofits and community food banks, as well as provides assistance for individuals in dire financial need of food, clothing, medicine and education. It also assists in the burial of Tampa Jewish indigents, when there are no personal funds available for burial.

Those interested in joining the burial society are asked to contact Pila at Ediblesbythel@gmail.com.

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