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Rabbi Lester Scharnberg
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Rabbi Scharnberg performs interfaith wedding ceremonies, cantorial rituals, bar & bat mitzvahs, circumcisions, funeral services, rites of passage & other creative ceremonies & celebrations. He is a theologian, religious educator & spiritual counselor for individuals & families. He is available for academic consultations regarding questions of theology & Jewish law. He is firmly committed to an interfaith dialogue & interfaith expressions of unity among all people.
When Paul’s father and mother both died in 2015, Paul and Diane faced the same circumstances many of us face with the death of a loved one: strangers from a funeral home were set to take over everything from the preparation of the body of their beloved, to the selection of a casket and the place for burial.
But Paul did something few people do: he did all of these preparations himself.
His father and mother died at home with the love of their son and daughter-in-law beside them.
Paul did this after noticing an obscure reference in the materials handed him by the mortuary directors. It basically said that people had the right to do all of these intimate and loving preparations themselves.
For the most part these important details from medical relief from pain, to preparation of the body of the deceased, to burial, are all a part of big business and are often very impersonal.
It was not always this way. For generations in the Jewish world each congregation had a group of friends (called a hevre kadishah) who did these ritual preparations for a grieving family and they were virtually all close friends of the deceased.
The same could be noted of other religious groups.
Today such groups have nearly disappeared except for those in the Orthodox world. However, there is a small movement to try and reconstitute this spiritual practice in other branches of Judaism.
Paul is doing a wonderful thing by trying to let people know that they have the legal right and spiritual opportunity to have the end of life be one of nurture, one in which the beloved is surrounded from illness through death and to the final rest, all in harmony with the love of family and friends.
I truly hope he is given the opportunity to realize his vision of bringing to all people the diversity of loving options for their end-of-life, which are available to them.
It is a noble quest and would be a deeply spiritual service.