Explaining Death to Kids

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Understanding Traditional Terms

These Hebrew words and phrases describe Jewish funeral and mourning rituals

The casket, all wood in keeping with teachings: "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return."

Bais Hakevorous: Burial grounds or cemetery.

Chevra Kadisha: Volunteer burial society or "Sacred Society," whose trained members wash and dress the deceased for burial, a process of ritual purification called taharah. (Jewish law forbids embalming.)

Hesped: Eulogy evaluating an individual's life.

Kaddish: Prayer recited after the service. Children also recite it for parents at every service for 11 months.

Kavod Ha'met: Honoring the dead by treating the body with respect and care until burial.

Kittel: Hand-sewn, white-linen burial shroud draped around the deceased, symbolizing that all are equal before their Creator. (Also called "Tachrichim", which describes a full set of white linen garments.)

Keriah: Symbolic cut black ribbon worn over the heart to indicate mourning, generally by adult children, the spouse or siblings of the deceased. Orthodox mourners tear, or rend, a lapel or other outer garment near the heart. The tear is on the left side for a parent and on the right side for siblings, children and the spouse.

Kever: The grave.

Kevurah: Burial. Specifically, shoveling earth onto the casket. Using the back of a shovel shows reluctance and the hurt felt by having to bury a loved one. Covering the casket is considered a mitzvah (honor), as it is something done for the deceased that cannot be reciprocated.

Leyava: Funeral procession.

Seudat Havra'ah: Meal of consolation after returning from the cemetery, customarily provided by friends. A hard-boiled egg is included to symbolize the continuity of life.

Shloshim: The first 30 days after burial are called shloshim, from the word for 30. Devout mourners do not shave or cut their hair during this time. For the 23 days after shiva (see below), they can leave home and resume work, while avoiding festive events and limiting social activities.

Shiva: After burial of a parent, spouse, sibling or child, immediate family members return to a home called the "shiva house" for up to a week of intense mourning. Shiva is from the word sheva (seven). Large wall mirrors are covered. Mourners customarily sit on low stools or the floor, symbolizing the emotional reality of being "brought low" by grief. Friends and relatives make short "shiva calls" (visits) to comfort those "sitting shiva." Meals can be brought.

Takhrikhin: "Enwrap" or "bind." Refers to white linen or muslin burial garments that reflect simplicity and a limit on ostentation, a tradition followed by observant Jews since ancient times. They are hand-sewn and have no buttons, zippers or fasteners.

Taharah: Washing and dressing the deceased with dignity. Performed by trained members of the Chevra Kadisha. Men prepare men, while women prepare women. Jewish law prohibits embalming, cosmetizing or other artificial preparation of the remains.

Tzedakah: A memorial donation. Friends and associates condolences can contribute to a charity that was important to the deceased.

Yahrzeit: "Time of year" in Yiddish. A commemoration on the annual Jewish calendar anniversary of a loved one's death. Observances include lighting a candle at home the night before, as the Jewish day begins in the evening, and reciting Kaddish or arranging for someone to do so. Some families fast from sunrise to sunset. (THE IRA KAUFMAN CHAPEL home page and e-mail reminders help you keep aware of the date.)

Yizkor: Memorial prayer recited four times a year.

Sources: Aish.com, Chabad Lubavitch, InterfaithFamily.com and Wikipedia.