Posts Tagged ‘Death’

‘Control’ Alternating With ‘Delete’

July 10, 2014

This article first appeared in June/July 2014 issue of Hadassah Magazine.

Illustration by Davide Bonazzi

Illustration by Davide Bonazzi

Lisa Samick was 35 when she watched her younger sister, a new mother, die of metastatic breast cancer.

Judah Schiller was 35 when he was left to raise three kids alone when his wife suddenly died of massive internal bleeding three days after giving birth to their third child.

Gabrielle Birkner was 24 when she got a call at work informing her that her father and stepmother had been murdered in a home invasion.

We all contend with loss, mourning and grief. Everyone confronts the death of a loved one at some point. But for some of us it comes sooner rather than later. While no one is truly prepared for loss, young adults in their twenties and thirties feel even less prepared. With few—if any—of their peers having gone through a similar experience, they are left charting their own course through the emotional and practical challenges that come in the wake of an immediate family member’s death.

Some young Jews find comfort in age-old Jewish rituals and in their local Jewish community. However, in the Internet age, when we live so much of our lives online, those experiencing loss often turn to Google in search of relevant and resonant resources. They may sit shiva but also reach out to their social media circles for support.

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© 2014 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

 

Camp Tawonga and the Truth

July 7, 2013

This piece was first published on the Forward Thinking blog at the Forward.

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Camp Tawonga’s leadership faced a difficult decision last week when 21-year-old art counselor Annaïs Rittenberg, was killed by a falling tree. They needed to decide what to tell the campers.

The camp decided not to tell the children that Rittenberg had died — a decision that angers Rittenberg’s father.

“It’s a tragedy,” Mark Rittenberg wrote on Camp Tawonga’s Facebook page. “Everyone needs to know and everyone needs to embrace it.”

Upset at the praise shown for how the camp administration handled the situation, Rittenberg pointed out the anguish it caused her family.

“The love and prayers should go to Annaïs Maya Rittenberg. She is the one who died. Where are her pictures on your Facebook page?” he asked. “Where is the Shabbat service to honor her? This would mean that everyone at camp including the campers would know that their beloved art teacher was killed. “

Rittenberg died on July 3 when a 70-foot-tall black oak tree toppled on her outside the dining hall at the Jewish camp near Yosemite National Park in northern California.

Although it was widely reported within hours that Rittenberg had died, the campers at the sprawling camp did not know the extent of the tragedy. And officials decided to keep them in the dark, in part because the camp session ended at the end of the week.

On the evening of July 4, a day and a half after the tragic accident, executive director Ken Kramarz sent an email to parents explaining the decision to tell the campers only that a tree had fallen and that some staff members had been injured.

“We concluded that you, their parents, have the right to determine what to share about the incident based on your own assessment of how your child is doing and in accordance with your personal beliefs about death,” he wrote. “We feel strongly that you — the parents — should be able to decide when and in what way to discuss this with your children.”

The email also included some suggestions from the camp’s therapeutic team on how parents could speak with their children when they arrived home at the end of the session on July 5.

Some people, from within the Tawonga community and from outside it, agree that glossing over the truth was the correct way to handle the issue.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/179963/camp-tawonga-and-the-truth/#ixzz2YMyOhSJs

A Burning Question

July 19, 2012

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Sybil Sage’s personalized mosaic urn. (photo credit: Courtesy)

PALO ALTO, California — When Elizabeth Stone’s mother Ann died last year in San Mateo, California, attendants from the University of California-San Francisco Medical School came quickly to pick up her body. The same thing had happened 11 years earlier when her father Daniel died.

“They came to take the bodies immediately and sent a thank you letter saying that their bodies would be cremated at some point within several years, but that there would be no notification and no possibility of claiming the ashes,” she said.

While her parents’ decision to be cremated, in addition to donating their bodies to science, might have shocked some Jewish daughters, Stone was unfazed. Her German-immigrant grandparents had been cremated, and she herself plans to follow the family custom.

A 20-minute drive south, one can see the cremated remains of Sandra Slater’s deceased parents and sister stored in wooden boxes in Slater’s home in Palo Alto. Some of her sister’s ashes were also scattered in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and put into a sculpture that Slater made of her.

“My mother, father, and sister were cremated,” she said. “There was really never any question that that’s what would happen.” Slater, an environmental consultant, plans on also choosing cremation (or perhaps liquefaction, should the technology be properly developed) when her time comes. Burial just doesn’t appeal to her. “My dead grandfather was in a closed coffin,” she recalled. To her, “that was creepy.”

To the surprise and disdain of many Jews, less than 70 years post-Holocaust, cremation appears to be a new Jewish family tradition. Increasing numbers of American Jews are choosing — contrary to age-old Jewish practice — to have their remains burned, rather than buried. In many cases, once one family member opts for cremation, it becomes an acceptable choice for many, if not all, of the others.

Lest one think that this is only something happening in the historically more liberal, less affiliated Jewish community in Northern California, Doron Kornbluth, a Canadian-born Israeli educator and speaker, provides some staggering statistics in his new book, “Cremation or Burial? A Jewish View”(Mosaica Press, 2012). According to Kornbluth, a full one-third of American Jews are now opting for cremation.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.