By Deb Silverthorn
Jim and Judy Kline of Plano lead a group of Dallas-area shomrim, guards of those who have died. They find contentedness and connection as they read Tehillim, the Book of Psalms, during their service.
“We’re here to help in the transformation of the neshama, the soul, from the body to the world to come,” said Jim, whose team includes Judy and the couple’s daughters Dena and Tova. “When the call comes in, it comes to me and I’ve built a team of people I respect and admire who I know take the responsibility very seriously.”
The couple, the area’s only married team to do so, work through community funeral homes — servicing members of any congregation and those unaffiliated — to remain with the deceased from the time of death until burial.
Shomrim act as watchpersons, and perform different services from the chevra kadisha, who perform tahara, the preparation of the body for a funeral. From the time they are called, usually once a decedent is on the way to a funeral home, the shomer keeps watch.
“Being able to provide the services of a shomer is of great comfort and we know with Jim leading the charge, we are always able to provide that to our clients,” said David Karlebach, Sparkman/Hillcrest funeral director and Jewish community liaison. “We’re able to give a sense of calm to families who can trust that someone, around the clock, is thinking of their loved one and having them in mind as they pray.”
Reading Tehillim, the Psalms, in Hebrew or English, the shomer “keeps” the neshama, the soul of the deceased, safe. Those working as a shomer (a paid opportunity) do not have to be observant of any branch of Judaism, nor do they need to read Hebrew, as Tehillim can also be read from an English transliteration.
“We help ease the burden of mourners by providing support to them and their loved one,” said Jim. “Reading Tehillim is something we do with absolute intention.”
The time frame of service can vary; some burials happen within 24 hours, while others can be days later if the death takes place near Shabbat and consecutive holidays. At times one shomer takes the entire service call and at others the shifts may be split. A shomer may rest, eat and take breaks, always within range of the decedent.
Jim, a native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is the son of Beverly and Henry and brother of Bruce, all of blessed memory, and brother of Jon. A graduate of the Jewish Day School of Allentown and a member of the Sons of Israel congregation as a child, he has always considered living the Torah he learned to be important. He was introduced to shomer service in high school by his father.
Jim moved to Houston after graduating from Penn State with his undergraduate and master’s degrees. While working for Service Corporation International, a provider of funeral and cemetery services, he received much exposure to the industry and has continued shomrim service everywhere he’s lived.
Judy, the daughter of Alyce and Leo Ney of blessed memory, is a native of Beaumont, and grew up at that city’s Temple Emanu-El. A graduate of UT Austin, with master’s degrees from Arizona State University and Prairie View A&M, Judy moved to Houston after college, and sang with the Houston Grand Opera and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. She joined the choirs of Houston congregations Beth Israel and Brith Shalom (she directed the latter) and met Jim at Brith Shalom in 1989.
In 1998 the family moved to Dallas; Jim worked for Zenith Corporation for many years as a consultant, and Judy spent 18 years as a music teacher in the Richardson school district. Their daughters graduated from Solomon Schechter Academy (now Ann and Nate Levine Academy). Dena graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and Tova is an alumna of Yavneh Academy. The family belongs to Congregation Shearith Israel, where Judy directed the youth choir for many years and has directed the adult choir since 2006.
“Our life has always been about connecting Jewishly: culturally, religiously, in music and cooking — in learning, growing and in performing mitzvahs — to do it together is special,” said Judy. “This is an honor we share with great kavod and great respect.”