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12:05, 30 October 2018

At a Pittsburgh Crime Scene, Jewish Volunteers Guard the ‘Bodies of Holy Martyrs’


At a Pittsburgh Crime Scene, Jewish Volunteers Guard the ‘Bodies of Holy Martyrs’

At a Pittsburgh Crime Scene, Jewish Volunteers Guard the &lsquoBodies of Holy Martyrs&rsquo

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Ralph Schugar Chapel, a Jewish funeral house in Pittsburgh that is handling solutions for a number of shooting victims.CreditCreditMichael Henninger for The New York Instances

By Jennifer Medina

All night long, Jewish volunteers stood solemnly in the rain outdoors the Tree of Life synagogue, exactly where 11 dead bodies lay inside, sealed off with yellow crime-scene tape. The deceased were not supposed to be left alone, according to Jewish tradition, from the moment of death till burial. So when the health-related examiner removed the bodies at five a.m. Sunday, the volunteers were there to escort them to the morgue.

Earlier in the evening, the volunteers had been allowed to peer briefly inside. They saw a scene of carnage, with bodies sprawled everywhere and prayer books strewn in all directions. After homicide investigators give them the all clear, they intend to meticulously clean the crime scene. They think about every little thing left behind to be sacred remains, to be preserved and buried with the bodies.

Judaism has a strict set of laws governing death: Burials are expected to take spot as quickly as feasible, autopsies are discouraged, and bodies are ritually washed and clothed in white shrouds. But balancing observance with a complex criminal investigation is presenting a uncommon set of challenges for the mourning families and religious leaders. In no way prior to in modern American history have there been so a lot of folks murdered in one Jewish neighborhood.

&ldquoThis is what we do &mdash the neighborhood requirements us and we mobilize &mdash but we have in no way observed anything like this ahead of,&rdquo stated Rabbi Daniel Wasserman, who runs the Orthodox burial society in Pittsburgh, known as a chevra kadisha. &ldquoThese are individuals who were killed since they had been Jewish, they are bodies of holy martyrs.&rdquo

Jewish volunteers, led by Rabbi Wasserman, count on to enter the synagogue Tuesday morning to begin the ritual cleanup: According to Jewish law, all human remains should be buried along with the body. They will wipe down blood with baby wipes, careful not to leave even a drop behind.

&ldquoWe would be seeking for any flesh, any blood, any organic material to give it the proper honor with the bodies,&rdquo Rabbi Wasserman said. &ldquoThat&rsquos going to be one particular of the most tough issues.&rdquo

The very first of the funerals, a single for two brothers who had been killed and another for a prominent community doctor, are scheduled to take location Tuesday. The intense grief is likely to play out in living rooms across the city as hundreds or even thousands of guests supply condolences at the properties of the households of the deceased in the course of shiva, the seven-day mourning period that follows burial.

Jews do not mourn alone. Throughout shiva, community members pay a visit to the relatives of these who have died, bringing food and standing with each other for kaddish, the memorial prayer. They sit with them, speak fondly of those who have passed on and comfort those left behind. This week, in the close-knit Jewish community of Pittsburgh, there will be numerous overlapping shivas.

Rabbis for the three congregations that met at the Tree of Life have been grappling with how to help households navigate public and private mourning. Calls have come in from across the nation from individuals wanting to visit during shiva, but the households could not be eager to greet strangers. At least 1 loved ones has requested total privacy.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who leads the Tree of Life congregation, underscored the magnitude of so many deaths in television interviews Monday morning.

&ldquoI have a congregation to take care of. I have households that need me,&rdquo Rabbi Myers said on CNN. &ldquoI have funerals to plan.&rdquo

Because she helped create the New Neighborhood Chevra Kadisha in Pittsburgh in 2004, Malke Frank has prepared dozens of bodies for burial. Each time, members begin by saying a prayer for guidance, followed by asking for forgiveness in case any blunders are created during the ritual, making use of the person&rsquos Hebrew or Yiddish name to address the body, as a sign of respect. They use three pails of warm water to wash the physique, cautious to remove nail polish or something else that is not naturally present. The face of the deceased is consistently covered &mdash if the dead can not see the eyes of the living, tradition goes, the living cannot see the eyes of the dead.

When the washing is carried out, they end with a phrase from the Song of Songs, a poem from the Jewish bible: &ldquoYou are lovely my beloved pal and there is no flaw in you.&rdquo

None of this, Ms. Frank stated, will have ready her for what she and other individuals will see when they commence the tahara, as the ritual washing is referred to as, for those killed on Saturday.

&ldquoWe have no doubt this will be the most hard,&rdquo she mentioned. &ldquoThis is going to be very, very distinct because of the extent of the damage of the bodies.&rdquo

A single of the victims of Saturday&rsquos shooting, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, was a committed volunteer with the New Community Chevra Kadisha, working with the identical men who will prepare his body ahead of it is to be buried on Tuesday.

If it is also much to bear, Ms. Frank said, another group of volunteers will step in. Leaders of a national association of chevra kadisha have flown in to support comfort these volunteers.

Although autopsies are usually avoided in Jewish tradition, there was no doubt that every of the bodies would require to be examined for evidence in the criminal case. When the bodies had been with the medical examiner, Mr. Wasserman ensured that a shomer, as the guard is known as in Hebrew, was in the developing to keep watch over them as they went through the procedure.

&ldquoThe idea being that when we die, our soul stays with us until our body is laid to rest and then the soul is totally free to go,&rdquo stated Sharon Ryave Brody, who runs Ralph Schugar Chapel, a Jewish funeral residence in Pittsburgh that is handling solutions for at least nine shooting victims. &ldquoDuring that time, that soul is kept firm and not alone.&rdquo

The dead are buried as quickly as achievable, frequently the day soon after death. But it was clear that would be not possible following the shooting.

Speedy burial is meant to not only permit mourners to commence to grieve with the neighborhood, but also to honor the dead, stated Rabbi Jason Weiner, the director of spiritual care at Cedars-Sinai Healthcare Center.

&ldquoDeath is a transition from this globe to the subsequent and it&rsquos the way we show fundamental human dignity, no matter what you did in life,&rdquo he stated. &ldquoThis is serving someone when a particular person can’t do anything for themselves, when they can’t pay it back.&rdquo

Kim Lyons contributed reporting from Pittsburgh and Sarah Mervosh from New York.

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Published at Tue, 30 Oct 2018 09:00:09 +0000


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