Ritual Committee Review of Policies
The Ritual Committee is reforming (no pun intended). We need more members. Specific knowledge and proficiency in Hebrew, in prayers or in Torah is not required. Rather, an interest in assisting the Congregation to create an accessible, interesting and meaningful worship and fellowship experience is helpful.
According to the bylaws of the Tree of Life Congregation the Ritual Committee “…shall make policy recommendations to the Board of Trustees and the Rabbi regarding the rituals, practices, and observances in the synagogue and shall meet with the Rabbi to set up the schedule for services, including High Holidays”.
Usually, most of our work concerns the High Holidays. We understand that a large part of our mission is to work with the Rabbi to formulate the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services time schedule, make recommendations for services content, and locate people to read and otherwise participate in the services. We also make recommendations about ritual policy, both for Congregation services and functions, and for B’nei Mitzvah celebrations. Ritual Committee members work with the Rabbi on services planning to ensure that services for Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Purim and the Cooper’s Rock Shabbat run smoothly. Finally, and by no means of least importance, we identify Congregants to lead services in the Rabbi’s absence, and to assist the Rabbi as Gabbai during services. We also function as shleppers-in-chief and Shamash to assist the Rabbi and to organize things for services.
Right now we do not expect a firm commitment of time, nor need you state your personal interests and abilities. Rather, if you think you may be interested and would like to contribute, contact Ritual Chair or Rabbi , or just show up at a meeting.
Over twenty years ago, the Ritual Committee spent months surveying the Congregation and conducting meetings in consultation with the Rabbi, to formulate a ritual policy which was adopted by the Board of Trustees. We came up with a compromise policy which harmonized the existing practices of the Congregation with the teachings of Reform Judaism, and which we hoped would be a policy which would make most, if not all, Congregants feel comfortable.
We expect all those who enter the sanctuary to respect its purpose as a place of prayer and contemplation. Therefore, no food or drinks are to be taken into the sanctuary and no flash photography is permitted during services.
Because we respect the age-old Jewish custom of head coverings and prayer shawls while at prayer, we provide these ritual tools at the entrance to the sanctuary, and we encourage, but do not require, participants in our services to wear them. We also keep extra prayer shawls on the Bimah, so that those coming up on the Bimah for an honor during services may have one to use if they wish to join us in honoring the custom, even if it is not their usual custom to utilize a prayer shawl during services.
Non-Jewish family members and friends are permitted and encouraged to participate in services, including coming up on the Bimah for honors, to the extent that they and the Rabbi feel comfortable with their participation. Historically, some non-Jews, who have so desired, have joined in aliyot with Jewish friends or family members and have participated in the passing of the Torah to the B’nei Mitzvah.
THE SOCIAL HALL AND KITCHEN
Our kitchen is a trayf-free dairy zone. Therefore, we have the policy of having non-meat or vegetarian only potlucks (herring and lox are allowed-some might say encouraged) and while food catered for a B’nei Mitzvah kiddush lunch, a Seder, or other special event held in the Social Hall may include Kosher meat or other meat dishes prepared outside of the Tree of Life kitchen, our policy requires that no trayf be served (forget the BLTs and pepperoni pizza) and that non-trayf meat and milk not be mixed. Also, Tree of Life kitchen dishes and utensils may not be used for special events that include meat.
The Chevra Kadisha, Sacred Fellowship, or Sacred Society is an organization traditionally composed of volunteers. It is also known as Holy Society, Hevrat Chesed VeEmet–Kindness and Truth Society, Hevra Gomelei Hasadim–Performers of Kindness Society, or Hevra Rodfei Zedek–Pursuers of Justice Society.
The members of the Sacred Society are responsible for assisting the family of the deceased to ensure a proper funeral. Membership in this organization has been, and continues to be, considered an honor. Famous rabbis have served in the Chevrah Kadish, and in large cities membership in the Chevra Kadisha is by invitation only.
Most Jewish communities offer the services of a Chevra Kadisha, to wash and prepare the body for burial where that kindness is requested. Men prepare men and women prepare women. At first blush, service on the Chevra Kadisha may seem odd, bizarre, depressing, or even macabre, those who have served on this holy society have found it to be a very kind, beautiful, spiritual and uplifting experience very similar to rendering care to a newborn in the form of washing and wrapping.
The Tree of Life Congregation has had a functioning woman’s and men’s Chevra Kaddisha for many years, but our numbers are not large enough to ensure that we can provide care when some members are out of town or otherwise unavailable. We have experienced members who have collected the necessary equipment and instructional materials. Now we are looking to expand our membership so as to have a full complement of volunteers ready to act at any time. No knowledge of the rules and procedures are necessary for new members. You will be taught and mentored.
Chevra Kadishah services can include accompanying and guarding the body from the moment of death until burial, the ritual cleansing of the body and subsequent dressing for burial, and support for families during the Shivah–the first week of mourning, by arranging meals, prayer services, etc.