Finding Comfort in a Caring Community
by Lori Freedman
Temple Beth Shalom, Austin, TX
During the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, it is customary to go to the cemetery to pay respects, or as I say, ‘visit’ those you love. This year, during this time, I was fortunate to be in the same city where my dad is buried. December will mark the 25th anniversary of my father’s death. I mentioned to my husband that, thinking back on that awful time and now living in the Austin Jewish Community, I can see what community means at a time like that.
I did not have the same kind of community support that so many in our congregation have benefited from and, because of that, I really appreciate all that we do for each other. It struck me earlier this year what a wonderful community we have, when a young woman in the congregation lost her dad. She and her husband were new to the congregation and they didn’t come very often. How different her experience was from my own.
When my dad died, no one went with us to the funeral home. There was no Chevra Kavod Hamet (formal group to honor the dead) to offer and recruit shomrim. There was no Chevra Kadisha (group of people entrusted with the mitzvah of preparing the body for burial) to perform taharah (ritual purification) and no caring member of the Jewish community to help me select a plot. There was no Caring Community to bring food to my dad’s house or lead a minyan. I was not embraced by a loving temple community; I just went back home.
What we have in our temple, and throughout the Austin Jewish community, is very special and we must never take it for granted. Certainly for those affiliated with a synagogue, but even for those whom this community has taken into its heart as its own, the experience of death and mourning is one of care and comfort. We are blessed. There are caring people to guide mourners through every aspect of loss, from selection of a burial plot in our own cemetery, to dealing with the funeral home, to performing rituals and Jewish mourning traditions.
Some of the best moments I can recall are when someone who does not have a large circle of friends, or is new to town, is overwhelmed by the fact that people they do not know have come to their home to comfort them. And out of that experience a beautiful thing happens;that person we comforted becomes involved and participates in comforting others because they were so touched by what our community did for them in their time of loss.
Zikhronam Livracha; may the memory of all of our loved ones be a blessing and may those memories, along with our own memories of mourning, inspire us to embrace each other for many years to come.
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