Bring your own shovel


By Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein – May 13, 2022
This article was first published in Times of Israel

We need our exhausted religious leadership to inspire transformations of our precious, but outmoded community structures that are suddenly unsustainable

I recently officiated a graveside funeral as the sole person physically present. Kindle as prayerbook in one hand, phone as camera in the other, I also was advised to bring my own shovel. The mourners on Zoom did not see my plastic “shovel” carried off by the wind as I began chanting Psalm 23.

Using a small, heavy slab of discarded concrete found near the grave, I moved many pounds of earth as proxy for each mourner in their loving duty. That funeral, like the many thousands facilitated recently by my colleagues, was lonely and distant; it was meaningful and responsive; and it was utterly exhausting.

Jewish spiritual leaders serve on the front lines of a crisis of loss and unimaginable loneliness while stripped of the tools upon which we have relied for thousands of years. As spiritual first responders, we are comforting the sick and dying; facilitating Jewish rituals of mourning and also of celebration across physical distance; distilling Jewish wisdom to help people facing spiritual and existential crises; creating innovative opportunities for ritual and study; facilitating acts of tzedakah and loving-kindness that sustain our people through severe financial distress.

There is no time to prepare. We must be nimble and innovative…

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