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Gamliel Institute

Student Projects

the Elephant in the Room

Teaching Jewish end of life practices

Project Abstract


Why is it that the number of traditional Jewish burials is so much lower in proportion to the populations of Alameda and Contra Costa counties? In management, when we observe that something is not working, we look at three possible causes: knowledge deficit, systems problem or compliance problem. When it comes to traditional Jewish burials, all three might factor into this situation.


Why are we doing this? In short, we are doing this because no one else is.  A survey of large-scale education on Jewish End of Life Practices has come up pretty much empty. As one leading Jewish educator said, “no one wants to teach it, and no one wants to talk about it.” We want to teach it, and we want to get as many people as we can to talk about it. That is why we have called out plan The Elephant in the Room.”


Recently, residents of some Oakland neighborhoods around Piedmont and Lake Merritt received a flier from “Smart Cremation” offering their free Cremation Planning Guide. They advertise, among other things, affordable services. Unfortunately, there are many Jews who choose cremation for exactly that reason, not understanding that our Jewish Mortuary will provide financial assistance for a Jewish burial if it is needed.  Our local Chevra Kadisha leaders of the aforementioned Consortium share the experience of having to educate Jewish families after the death has occurred, during this acute time of need for mourners. We know that we cannot force compliance, but we can educate. If we continue to have Jewish families choosing cremation and non-Jewish burials, how will their children and grandchildren learn about this essential part of Jewish life and culture?


Student Profile


Edna Stewart is an RN, MPH, BSN with 46 years of experience. She is the co-chair of the Chevra Kadisha for Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, and former chair of the Adult Education Committee. Edna is a new member of the faculty of the Gamliel Institute of Kavod v’Nichum. She can be reached at ednastewar@aol.com

Project Links:

The Elephant in the Room.pdf