Plans to create a Community Hevra Kadisha in R.I. move forward


PROVIDENCE – About 50 people gathered in a circle in the social hall at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center on May 30 to talk about death, specifically Jewish rituals surrounding death.

The group talked about their own experiences of having lost someone they loved, about preparing Jewish bodies for burial, about sitting with bodies (sh’mirah) and sitting shivah.

The evening, supported by the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis, was a start to a broader community conversation about developing an inclusive Community Hevra Kadisha (Holy Society).

Currently, most Jewish Rhode islanders who have tahara (the washing and preparation of the deceased for burial) are tended to by the Chevra Kadisha of Rhode Island. This group has been doing this beautiful ritual for more than 20 years. But membership in this group is only extended to Jewish people with a specific level of observance. It is the goal of an inclusive Community Hevra Kadisha to open up this mitzvah to all Jewish people in Rhode Island.

The event on May 30 was the first step in getting the word out and learning about the Jewish rituals for taking care of our dead.

One of the most lovely aspects of these rituals is that any Jewish person can perform them; one need not be a “medical person” or a rabbi – just being a Jew enables one to volunteer for the Hevra Kadisha. Jews of all backgrounds and genders are welcome to join in this sacred mitzvah.

Ten years ago, the Community Hevra Kadisha of Greater Boston was formed, and it now attends to the greater metropolitan area of Boston. With 130 volunteers, this group has been an inspiration to us in Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Board of Rabbis is working to support the steps it will take to develop a Community Hevra Kadisha, including training on how to perform tahara and “living room learning sessions” to explore Jewish end-of-life rituals.

Even if you are not drawn to becoming a member of the Hevra Kadisha, having a chance to discuss and understand Jewish rituals can be a valuable learning experience.

To learn more about the planning for a Community Hevra Kadisha, email

MARSHA MILLER is the organizer of the Community Hevra Kadisha, with the support and endorsement of the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis.