We are but molecules that randomly came together due to a process that began billions of years ago.
Anything that can be salvaged from bodies to help others, or even to make cosmetics for all that it matters, should be salvaged and the rest should be burned. What the religious call the soul is just a part of the brain that responds to certain stimuli and has certain desires.
I told myself (unconvincingly) that this was the perfect opportunity to explore the mitzvah-with-no-quid-pro-quo. An hour later, Phyllis, the friend who had piqued my interest in the Chevra Kadisha, picked me up, reaffirming our agreement that nothing was expected of me and that if I were to change my mind, I could assist under her tutelage. I didn't say much on the way to the funeral chapel, and when we arrived, I retreated into myself.
I walked in and instantly tears caught in my throat and cried out for a ladies' room haven. We took the stairs down to a dimly lit sitting parlor furnished in Victorian décor. Subdued and qualmish, I followed them through the door into an open, well-lit, white-tiled room.
Reading from a laminated, timeworn sheet, she said a prayer at each step of the tahara.
I was afraid to look at Sarah's face, but my eyes were pulled to her. Related Article: Touching Death With my own right hand I daubed the pink away, feeling an unexpected warmth for this stranger whose face I could only glimpse.
Andrea Eller, a ba'alas t'shuva who attended the women's division of Aish Ha Torah ("EYAHT") for a year and a half, is a writer and English teacher who also sings and acts professionally.
I took it upon myself to see that the bows lay spread out, flat and pretty -- another task I would eventually make mine -- while the other women beseeched Sarah bas Avraham in poignant Yiddish to remember herself as a Yiddishe tochter (Jewish daughter), and to recall her Hebrew name while on her final course.
Ensconced in the casket -- a simple, unvarnished pine box lined with fragrant straw -- Sarah looked clean, warm and cared for.
Phyllis, the leader of the team, began by murmuring the closest thing to conversation I was to hear for the next hour and a half.
"Sarah bas Avraham, please forgive us if anything we do as part of the work of the Chevra Kadisha offends your dignity in any way." Silently, carefully, she began cutting away Sarah's encasement.