As I start this project, I’m reaching out to people who are connected to the end of life experience (whether professionally or through personal experience) and having conversations that are important, exciting, generative, and beautiful. It’s become clear that what I am learning/hearing should be recorded and shared.
Even though I’ve been told I “have a voice for radio” I have never enjoyed hearing my own voice (does anyone really?!) but I decided to get over my fear of podcasting because the importance of hearing stories from people in our communities about the end of life is too great. Being able to hear a person’s story provides a look into a world that many of us don’t know. Maybe, if we begin by listening, we will find ourselves on paths towards greater empathy and understanding. And along the way, if we add resources and Jewish wisdom to our toolkits, that’s a good thing too.
I was connected with Dan Fendel after googling “Jewish death doulas” and finding the Melaveh Project an organization located in the Bay Area that provides doula services for the dying. Dan, a leader in the organization, very kindly answered all my questions and more. I knew I would begin this blog by talking about death/end of life doulas and Dan was a great fit to kick things off. You can listen to the first episode of The Be.Side Project below.
More about Dan Fendel:
Dan Fendel is the co-founder of the Chevrah Kadisha at Temple Sinai, he has been a Spiritual Care Volunteer at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland since 2014, and is a leader of the Melaveh project.
Dan is also a Board member for Kavod v’Nichum, a North American organization providing resources, education, and training along the Jewish end-of-life continuum, and a faculty member and Acting Dean of Kavod v’Nichum’s online educational program, the Gamliel Institute. He has also co-authored several books.
We Remember Them by Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer
The poem Dan references
Hebrew and Jewish references explained:
Bikur Cholim: Hebrew for “visiting the sick”
Kavod V’Nichum: Hebrew for “honor and comfort”, the name of the organization Dan is a part of and that sponsors the Melaveh Project
Nechama: Hebrew for comfort, a nechama group might be a group of people providing comfort to community members when needed
Chevra Kadisha: Aramaic in origin is the term for Jewish burial societies, also translated as “holy friends” or “sacred society”
Melaveh: Hebrew for “one who accompanies”
Shiva minyan: Shiva is hebrew for “seven” and is the week-long period of mourning after a burial. A minyan is the term for a group of 10 Jewish adults who gather to pray. As certain prayers can only be said in a quorum of 10, the minyan is brought to the mourners.
Elohai neshama shenatati bi tahorah hi: From the morning prayers. It translates to “My God, the soul you have given me is pure”. You can read where it comes from in the context of the text here and also there’s a beautiful reflection on the text from My Jewish Learning.