By Deb Silverthorn
Throughout the world, Zayin Adar, the date Moshe Rabbeinu was born — and the date he passed 120 years later — is recognized by every chevra kadisha, burial society, as a date to come “together” and reflect on their dedication of the year passed and to educate the community.
Thirty-six years, double chai — double life — of Dallas Chevra Kadisha was honored at the Zayin Adar Dinner at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at Congregation Ohr HaTorah. The dinner was catered by Simcha Kosher Catering and was open to the community.
“We follow thousands of years of tradition, of the purest form — with kavanah, intention, and kavod, respect — to ready a person to meet their Creator,” said Patty Goldschmiedt, coordinator of services for females. “In the most respectful way we wash, clean, dress and prepare a person for burial.”
Before the formation of Dallas Chevra Kadisha in 1987, by Annette, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Howard Wolk, Leni Hirschberg and Aaron Rubin, Congregation Shearith Israel and Tiferet Israel Congregation each had teams serving the community’s needs. Those entities continue, along with chevra kadisha services provided for years too by congregations Anshai Torah, Beth Torah and Kol Ami.
“Our first Shabbat, and that of Congregation Shaare Tefilla, was Hanukkah 1986. In the next few weeks, one of the first things we did was to create a Chesed Shel Emet Society, now Dallas Chevra Kadisha,” said Rabbi Wolk. “It was to formalize how to respond to the needs of tahara — the preparation — but also the transportation, providing meals, covering of mirrors at the mourners’ home. Whatever we could do, we did.
“While we were based at Shaare, from the outset it was not a shul-servicing-only mission,” said Rabbi Wolk. “It has always been here for any Jew.”
Rabbi Wolk, community chaplain at Jewish Family Service since 2007, leads the Indigent Burial program — a cooperative effort between JFS, Dallas Chevra Kadisha, the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation and a number of local synagogues and funeral homes.
Donations to Dallas Chevra Kadisha, and their additional partnerships with Dallas Jewish Burial Fund and Dallas Hebrew Free Loan Association’s Jewish Burial Loans program, allow them to help anyone, regardless of ability to pay for a Jewish burial.
“We will provide services to anyone born Jewish or anyone who has converted —— by whatever branch of Judaism. For us, a Jew is a Jew,” said Charles Hirschberg. With Michael Geller, the organization’s administrator and secretary of the board, Hirschberg coordinates services for deceased males. “It isn’t only about if someone can afford to pay, but if someone finds the worth in the cost differential of cremation rather than Jewish burial. We do whatever we can to make sure the traditions and reasons are understood and can be fulfilled.”
There are no fees for services of Dallas Chevra Kadisha ; the only charges are for the tachrichim, shrouds, of white pure muslin or linen,the traditional burial clothing.
“We listen to the family, we do what we do only with honor,” said Goldschmiedt. “Really, the only wishes we cannot abide by are for embalming or cremation.”
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, rosh kollel of Dallas Area Torah Association, led an informative discussion on the topic of cremation versus burial.
“To honor the dead is of a deep-seated understanding and the body is the receptacle of the soul, the partner to the soul and must be treated with the utmost kavod in order to be reunited as whole in the world to come. To reject that honor through cremation is a rejection of the belief system of what is to come. Rabbinical sources say that those who reject may not share in that eternal reward,” said Rabbi Fried, citing the Orthodox perspective.
Registered with the National Association of Chevra Kadisha, Dallas Chevra Kadisha works with local funeral homes and cemeteries, but also throughout Texas and the Southwest. Local members have been to Austin and Flower Mound to train and get chevra kadisha organizations started and to offer services in cities including Abilene, Corsicana and Waco.
Dallas Chevra Kadisha members were among those who spoke to the Texas House and Senate on behalf of a bill, which became law, to expedite death certificates for religious purposes (in certain counties). They meet regularly with medical examiners, educating them and imploring them not to perform autopsies if other measures can meet their needs, and they do much more on behalf of the community.
Goldschmiedt and Hirschberg each recall services provided away from home, both noting when an unlikely out-of-town connection was made. A member of Dallas Chevra Kadisha, a speech therapist by profession, was called to a client in Corsicana. When he arrived, the person, who was in hospice care, was close to passing away. In speaking with the family, it was noted that arrangements for the patient’s cremation had been made.
“The Chevra Kadisha member spoke to the family and offered to pay the difference between cremation and burial — a significant reason for their choice of cremation,” said Goldschmiedt. “We did make up the difference, we sent a team from Dallas and the person was cared for and buried in proper Jewish form. Years later, we were called by the adult child of another person from that community who had made the decision to have a Jewish burial, only because she knew that story. Truly, we want to educate, we just need the opportunities.
“We’re here for the deceased, but also for their family to know the devotion we have for their loved one at the end,” said Goldschmiedt. “There is no greater mitzvah than chesed shel emet, a good deed of truth, one that can never be thanked or repaid.”
To support Dallas Chevra Kadisha, visit dallaschevrakadisha.org. To volunteer with the organization, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.