The South Berkshire Community Hevra Kadisha is a Jewish burial society consisting of trained volunteers who care for and prepare the deceased for burial. We are here to serve our local Jewish community--regardless of background or affiliation. We work with funeral homes located in Great Barrington, and coordinate with area synagogues to provide this sacred rite to families who request it.
In accordance with Jewish tradition, we ensure that the body is treated with the utmost dignity, care, and respect.
Step One: Sh’mirah—Volunteers from the community provide an ongoing vigil in the presence of the deceased from the time of death until burial. This devotional act called sh’mirah is understood to provide spiritual comfort to the soul as it begins its journey away from the physical world. Jewish tradition teaches that the separation of the soul from the environs of the body is a process that occurs over time. The shomer or shomeret (guard in Hebrew) provides comfort to the soul by accompanying it at this critical juncture in the spiritual journey. The volunteer acts as a kind of spiritual anchor and escort for the soul at this time.
Traditionally, the volunteer recites psalms aloud. Singing gentle songs can also be soothing as well as reading aloud from other sacred texts, poetry or books that were meaningful to the deceased or particularly anchoring and inspirational to the shomer or shomeret. We read aloud because it is taught that the soul can hear during this period. The funeral home provides several books in the room with the deceased for this purpose.
Family members may volunteer to take part in sh'mirah.
Step Two: Taharah—The Hevra Kadisha performs the taharah; the spiritual and physical cleansing of the deceased as well as shrouding and casketing. The term taharah is used to refer both to the entire process of burial preparation, and to the specific step of cleansing and ritual purification. Prayers and readings from the Jewish Bible are recited throughout the process of preparation for burial. There are two tahara teams. A women's team cares for women and a men's team cares for men.
These traditions are rooted in the Jewish understanding of the spiritual process at the time of death, the journey of the eternal soul and the obligation of the living to care for and give respect to the deceased. The work of the Hevra Kadisha is considered to be among the holiest of mitzvot that a Jew can perform.
Who is the South Berkshire Community Hevra Kadisha?
We are the burial society who serves the needs of the Jewish community in South Berkshire County. The Hevra Kadisha is served by volunteers from our across our community, and Rabbi Neil Hirsch of Hevreh of Southern Berkshire now serves as the society's Rosh. Founded several years ago by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman, the Hevra Kadisha was held by RIMON: a resource center for Jewish spirituality. Since its inception, the Hevra Kadisha has been and remains open to anyone who seeks its services. We work with both Finnerty & Stevens Funeral Home and Birches Roy Funeral Services.
Our primary purpose is to escort the deceased to his or her burial. We also offer educational programs throughout the year in order to further inform the community of our work.
We also are always seeking volunteers. Volunteers are needed for both sh’mirah, the vigil of sitting with the deceased until the time of burial as well as for the taharah teams.We regularly offer training programs to fully prepare interested community members to participate in this holy work. Volunteers learn how to be fully present to the deceased, how to properly bathe and dress the deceased for burial and how to work together in silence to maintain the sacred space in which taharah takes place. To learn about volunteer opportunities, email Rabbi Hirsch at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (413) 528-6378.
Area Congregations & Prayer Communities
The Berkshire Minyan
Congregation Ahavath Sholom
Hevreh of Southern Berkshire
For more information, please click CONTACT below to email or call (413) 528-6378.