by Susan Dvorkin and Harold Lipton
(AJNews) – Volunteers offer their time without requirement or obligation, and in doing so, connect with others pursuing a common goal. Together, they make vital contributions to their community. Jewish organizations in Calgary are able to function, grow and achieve success because of the tireless efforts of their volunteers.
The Calgary Chevra Kadisha also relies on its volunteers, but what makes this organization different from most other groups is that its function is actually mandated by Jewish law. Proper and respectful burial is one of the most fundamental elements of Jewish communal life. The volunteer work performed in the Chevra is considered chesed shel emet, deeds of true kindness, in that there is no expectation of reciprocation or reward for performing the mitzvah of preparing the deceased for burial. Thus, the work of the volunteers is seldom acknowledged.
While other organizations make a point of publicly honouring their treasured volunteers, the Chevra Kadisha does not. Rick Pollick, current Executive Director at the Calgary Chevra, explains that preparation of the deceased for burial is completed purely out of respect for the deceased. “In any other year,” noted Pollick, “the Chevra would have a private dinner for its volunteers for the primary purpose of thanking them, and at no other time do we publicly extol them for their work. This year, the pandemic has pre-empted holding such a dinner, and we would be remiss if we didn’t let our volunteers know how much their efforts are appreciated.”
Each year, the Chevra Kadisha of Calgary holds a dinner to honour its volunteers and is the only occasion when the volunteers are invited to join together and be acknowledged for their selfless contributions. In a typical year, the dinner is held on the 7th of Adar, the traditional yahrzeit of Moses. The COVID-19 virus has rendered this year as anything but typical, and so this year’s dinner, which has been held for one hundred and five consecutive years, has been pre-empted in order to comply with COVID restrictions. Much of the Chevra’s business has had to be modified and adapted for safety reasons, and the Chevra is blessed that its volunteers have risen above and beyond to continue to serve all members of our community in their greatest time of need.
Chevra Kadisha president Louis Bracey says “we regret that we do not have the opportunity this year to thank our volunteers in our usual way at the annual dinner. This organization was one of the first institutions in the history of the Jewish community in Calgary. Throughout the generations, the volunteer has been the backbone of what we do, and without them, we could not perform our needed functions. So I want to take this opportunity to thank every volunteer for their efforts. Whether it is sewing tachrichim (shrouds), performing tahara (ritual preparation of the deceased for burial), or helping to make a minyan at the funeral, all of these functions are vital to the Chevra Kadisha performing its work in the Calgary community. Yasher kochachem to all. While we hope we will not need your services in the coming year, may your strength and dedication continue.”
In appreciation of its volunteers, the Chevra Kadisha this year will be planting trees in Israel in their honour.