Jerusalem, Israel - Aug. 18, 2020 - When former Maryland resident Rebekah Saltzman’s mother died in June, publishing a book “Organized Jewish Life” was the last thing on Rebekah’s mind.
Rebekah, who has been living with her husband and children in Haifa, and working as a professional organizer, knew that people had a hard time organizing for Pesach, she runs an online workshop helping people with their Pesach organizing. Organizing their time and space; she teaches classes in that too. But she had never considered how disorganized a funeral and shiva could be, especially in a Covid era, and she was astounded at how little organizational support there was. That’s when the idea for “Organized Jewish Life” was born, as a tribute to her mother.
Around the world, life has been drastically affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Various and changing COVID-19 restrictions have limited attendance at graduations, weddings, bar and bat mitzvot, and bris milah, at all life-cycle events.The virus has put distance between family celebrations. So much more with families who live in different countries, with airlines not flying and borders closed.
On Tuesday, June 9, 2020, Ruth Greenberg Chaifetz z'l passed away after battling metastatic thyroid cancer. We lived on the same street as the Chaifetz family and we were members of the same shul in Silver Spring, MD. With the coronavirus restrictions the funeral, held graveside at the Judean Memorial Gardens Cemetery, was limited to the barest minimum. I watched from Jerusalem, as Young Israel Shomrei Emunah had shared an email with the Zoom link to the levaya.
Most of the extended Chaifetz family lives in the US, but one daughter Rebekah Chaifetz Saltzman made aliyah with her family to Haifa.
When her mother died, Rebekah didn't know what to do. A few months before, Rebekah had read the book, "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning" by Rabbi Maurice Lamm. Ruth had been extremely ill for some time, so it wasn't a matter of if, but rather when she would pass away. "I felt like I would know what to do when the time came. But I just didn't know what to do."
She emailed her former rabbi in New York. No answer.
She called her Rabbi in Israel. No answer.
Finally, Rebekeh called her parents' rabbi in Silver Spring. Rabbi Dovid Rosenbaum answered immediately. Rabbi Rosenbaum knew her mother, as the family were long time members of the shul, and he was to officiate at the funeral. Rebekah said to him, "Rabbi, I don't know what. I don't know how. What do I need to know?"
Rabbi Rosenbaum explained that since she was in Israel and not going to go to the funeral, Rebekah should start sitting shiva immediately. He told her all the things needed to have on hand, a meal, a candle, a low chair. All Rebekah, the organizer wiz, could think of was that she needed a checklist. "No way I would remember to tell my husband everything the Rabbi said," Rebekah recounted to BJL.
During the shiva, visitation was drasticly prohibited due to corona restrictions. Rebekah was left feeling as if she wasn't honoring her mother enough. She tried to say kaddish, but it didn't feel right. Her rabbi suggested learning a new sefer, but it didn't feel to her as if that would make much of a contribution to the world. As she thought about it, Rebekah relates, "I wanted to do something that would give my mother's neshama a real lift and really make the world a better place."
Therefore, Rebekah decided to write a book. Not just any book. A book that married her mother's exceptional ability as a hostess and her organizational skills. She decided to write about how to get organized for Jewish holidays and Jewish Lifecycle events. Even with extra guests, and often not feeling well, Rebekah remembers, "my mother never got stressed out or worried about Shabbat or holidays, even though she worked full time, she had her own organized way of dealing with things."
In her mother's home no one was turned away. Friends were welcome for Shabbos and Yom Tov, including people the Chaifetzes didn't know, all were welcome. Paricipants for NCSY shabbatonim, even a friend's daughter who was having trouble with her boarding family, was welcomed in the Chaifetz home.
Near the end, when Ruth was very ill at Johns Hopkins and Bikur Cholim sent visitors, she endeavored to be presentable and to offer her visitors something. Rebekah adds a special thank you Bikur Cholim of Baltimore,"I really can't express how much gratitude I have for your organization."
For the last few years, before Pesach, Rebekah has taught a course on how to organize for a more enjoyable, less stressed holiday, with original checklists and holiday guides.
Wouldn't it be great if everyone could go into a holiday or a Jewish event feeling the joy of the event? And perhaps even more important, the unfortunate events, to know what to do in advance?
Rebekah's aim is to provide a guide to help others be prepared in the event of a tragedy. But also provide a source to make those happy occasions less stressful.
To pre-order a copy, or reach out to Rebekah: