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RENA BORODITSKY: TRADITION DICTATES PRACTICES AT CHESED SHEL EMES

By Rhonda J. Prepes, P Eng.

Rena Boroditsky the Executive Director of the Chesed Shel Emes, the local Jewish community funeral chapel and mortuary says that the Winnipeg Jewish community is fortunate to have its own mortuary considering the small size of the Jewish population.

According to Boroditsky, there are larger Jewish centres that “must rely upon the facilities of non-Jewish mortuaries.”

On January 16, 2010, Boroditsky spoke at the Etz Chayim synagogue about Jewish burial and funeral practices. She also explored the spiritual and personal impact that working at the Chesed Shel Emes has had on her life.

The Chesed Shel Emes   (which means "Charity of True Loving Kindness “ ) was established in 1930 in Winnipeg’s North End as an independent, community based non-profit organization with a mandate to prepare members of the Jewish community for burial according to adherence to Orthodox tradition.

As Boroditsky said, “Jewish people often find it comforting to know that the Chesed Shel Emes provides a funeral process that dates back more than 3000 years. The guiding principles of this process are Kavod La Met, respect for the dead, and Nichum Avelim, comforting the mourners.”

She also added that it is reassuring to know that each person is treated with the same consideration and respect regardless of their position or status in life. No one is refused service due to financial hardship.

As she said, “Preparing the dead is a humbling experience. To think that my hands may be the last hands to touch the deceased body…that makes it an intimate experience. My touch will go with them to the next world. And after dealing with the deceased for 14 years, I believe that there definitely is some sort of afterlife.”

When the Chesed Shel Emes is notified of a Jewish death, Boroditsky arranges for the transfer of the deceased to the funeral chapel, where the deceased is prepared for burial according to Orthodox Halacha (law). The deceased are cared for on the premises from the time of death until removed for the funeral service and burial, or shipped to Israel or another destination for interment.

According to Boroditsky, “Chesed Shel Emes prepares approximately 200 Jewish deceased for burial per year.”

According to Halacha, out of respect, the departed should never be unattended and a Shomer (guard) should be present with the deceased until the funeral. It is a mitzvah for family and friends to be the Shomrim, but in Winnipeg it is more common that the Chesed Shel Emes must provide Shomrim.

In her talk, Boroditsky also explained the duties of the Chevra Kadisha (Holy Society), which performs the ritual of Tahara, the washing and dressing of the deceased in preparation for burial.

Both Shomrim and  the Chevra Kadisha deserve great respect from the Jewish community. Boroditsky expressed that almost every day these groups do “‘righteous and honorable acts” that go virtually unseen. But what they do is “essential” if Jews are to have traditional preparation for burial in an Orthodox manner – something that Winnipeggers have relied upon for the last 80 years.

Regarding the process of Tahara, Boroditsky explained that separate Chevra Kadisha committees care for women and for men. They bathe and ritually purify the body, which is then dressed in a white natural fiber shroud. The Tachrichim or burial garment is simple and symbolizes “equality, modesty and humility.’’ For men, the Tallis (prayer shawl) worn during life is placed around the shoulders over the shroud.

Orthodox Halacha requires that the deceased is placed in a plain coffin or Aron with no nails or metal hinges, made entirely of wood. Holes are cut in the bottom to allow contact with the earth. Burial in the earth is a Biblical commandment called Kvura B’karka. The return of remains to the earth is thought to atone for a person’s earthly transgressions.

Membership in the Chevra Kadisha is considered to be a great honour and one of the highest Mitzvot (good deeds). Men and women are carefully chosen and trained. Jewish women and men are welcome to volunteer as Shomrim or as members of the Chevra Kadisha. According to Boroditsky, currently there is a need for men to join the Chevra Kadisha.

If you are interested, please contact her at 582-5088 or email  [email protected] This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

For more information about the Chesed Shel Emes funeral chapel and mortuary, see their website at www.chesedshelemes.org .

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