Chevra Kadisha Conference - Plenary Sessions

1. What Does It Take To Save a Life? Jewish Perspectives on Organ and Tissue Donation – Lisa Dinhofer - Sunday 1pm


If saving a life is the highest mitzvah, why is there still controversy about organ and tissue donation? Is there really a need for donation? Does donation really save lives? What is the basis for differences of opinion within Judaism in considering the option to donate? How does brain death, a goses state, body integrity and variances relate to different types of donation? And most important for us, what can the Chevra Kadisha expect when they do a tahara for a donor?


Lisa Dinhofer is a certified Thanatologist and Transplant consultant with over 10 years of experience teaching in organ and tissue procurement agencies. She specializes in the emotional, ethical and legal issues of obtaining informed consent. Lisa is works with healthcare, mortuary and forensic professionals on death notification techniques; consent for donation and autopsy; and compassion fatigue within healthcare. She works with bereaved clients on issues of sudden/traumatic loss and bereavement issues unique to donor families. Lisa presents to numerous conferences, publishes articles and provides expert witness testimony.



2. Jews and the American Funeral: A Survey of American Responsa – Dr. Ruth Langer - Sunday 7:30pm     


The "American Funeral" emerged simultaneously with the explosive growth and maturation of the American Jewish community. With its embalming, viewing, and general ostentation, it challenged traditional Jewish models. How did the various American movements respond to this tension between participation in the American norm and halakhic norms? How have these responses shifted over the last century?


Dr. Ruth Langer is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, and Academic Director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning in the Theology Department of Boston College. She lectures and writes on Jewish liturgy, ethics, and Jewish-Christian relations.


3. Telling the Chevra Kadisha Story – Can Grownups Show Passion and Express Emotion? David Zinner - Monday - 8:30 am


How does the mundane work of washing a body get transformed to a spiritual experience? How do we weave our passion into our education of our members, our recruitment of volunteers, and our training of our leaders.


David Zinner is the Executive Director of Kavod v’Nichum. He teaches and trains, reads and writes, organizes and practices, thinks and dreams this Chevra Kadisha stuff.


4. Reinfusing Ruach, Normalizing Neshama: Envisioning A Spirit-Based Model of Chevra Kadisha Work – Dr. Simcha Raphael – Monday 12:45 pm


Notions of ruach (spirit), neshama (soul) and afterlife have always been part of Jewish tradition. Yet we either ignore or have an awkward discomfort with afterlife and ideas about survival of consciousness after death. How might Chevra Kadisha work be different were we to reinfuse ancient Jewish traditions of soul, spirit and life after death into our contemporary Jewish culture? Can we envision a future in which Chevra Kadisha work may come to be regarded as “soul-guiding”, and a form of midwifery for the departing spirit?

Simcha Raphael, Ph.D. teaches in the Jewish Studies program of Temple
University, and serves as a Spiritual Director at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. He also works as a psychotherapist affiliated with Mt. Airy Counseling Center, in Philadelphia. Simcha has been involved in Jewish death awareness education for over twenty five years, and is author of Jewish Views of the Afterlife.


5. The Gamliel Institute - Energizing Our Community Leaders to Take Back the Mitzvot – How Tahara, Shmira, and the Entire Continuum from Bikkur Cholim through Mourning can Radically Change our Jewish Community - Rabbi Stuart Kelman – Monday 7:30 pm   


Judaism mandates a communal response to heal the sick, care for the dead and comfort the mourners. Within the Jewish community a new Chevra Kadisha movement has re-energized traditional Jewish funeral and burial practice. The Chevra Kadisha conference has provided the beginnings of the education and networking needed to grow this movement. The Gamliel Institute will take that work to the next step. We will educate and train Jewish professionals, lay leaders and volunteers with a religious perspective so they can provide more meaningful service in the areas of illness, death and mourning.


Rabbi Stuart Kelman is the President of the Kavod v’Nichum board and the Dean of the Gamliel Institute. He has been actively working in the field of Jewish education for 40 years. Stuart has served as a principal, regional youth director, camp director, professor of education, executive director of a central bureau of Jewish education, and most recently, rabbi of a synagogue. Stuart was ordained at JTS and served as rabbi of Conservative shul for 15 years. He has also taught for 10 years at the Reform seminary. Stuart has the distinction of writing the first professionally published Tahara Manual.