Shomerim

I might not be supposed to post this, but the shomerim are not a secret society and I’m not really bragging, just mentioning something gentiles may find interesting about Judaism, historical and contemporary.

Bit tired this morning after being up most of the night. I pulled my shomer gig from midnight to 3 a.m. for a woman I never met. She was a member of my synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom, but there are too many members for me to have even seen all of them.

She died the other day and was to be buried within 48 hours. So Beth Shalom required shomerim (guardians/watchers) to sit with her in her plain (unpainted and unadorned) pine casket at Cook Walden Funeral home. I always take the midnight to 3 a.m. shift because few others want it or have time for it and being retired it’s pretty easy for me.

The ritual is thousands of years old. A matter of respect for the dead. Originally intended to keep insects and animals away from the deceased especially since, in Israel, no coffins were/are used. Remains are wrapped in linen and put in the earth. In the U.S., of course, the funeral lobby long ago paid off pols to require caskets. So the ritual is symbolic. But the respect is the same. And observant Jews use the next best thing to linen: a plain, pine casket.

You pull your shift of 2 to 2.5 hours on the premises of the funeral home, some of it in a special room with the casket, reading from Psalms aloud. You can take breaks away from the casket, get coffee and read other material on the Jewish way of death and dying. I needed two cups to stay completely awake until my successor arrived at 3 a.m.

Different shomerim believe different things. I believe the soul is a form of energy which stays with the body at least part of the time before burial, still trying to adjust to the fact of death and the soul’s eternal, immortal life. So part of the reason for the shomer’s presence is to be reassuring.

As shomerim say, none of us are thanked. The mitzva (commandment or good deed) is expected from those who can do it and the one for whom it is done cannot thank us. I am a little tired this morning but glad to have done my duty and, once again, forever changed.

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