From the Service of Grief

The Butwin family in a photo posted on Yafit Butwin’s Facebook page in December 2010./JTA

About 575 people gathered at Temple Emanuel of Tempe earlier this evening to grieve over the loss of five Emanuel congregants.

Through the moving Service of Grief, centered on the traditional evening prayer service, Rabbi Dean Shapiro and Cantorial Soloist Susan Schanerman gave voice to the shock and grief evident in the tearful hugs and moistened eyes of the congregants and many friends – Jewish and non-Jewish – of the Butwin family: James and Yafit and their daughter, Malissa, and sons Daniel and Matthew.

The rabbi stressed that this was not a funeral, that Kaddish would not be said, and that the shock of their loss was too great to yet be accepted by those gathered. “Illness and anguish cut short five lives.”

On the bimah throughout the service, sat a table with five candles in holders that looked something like very large goblets. When the evening prayers concluded, the rabbi invited everyone in the sanctuary and people watching the service through a video feed to the synagogue’s multipurpose room to take glass “pebbles” from a container and place them in the candleholders to mark their presence together in a time of grief.

In hushed single files, people did exactly that. By the time the last people placed their pebbles the candleholders were overflowing with those tokens of grief.

To end the service, the rabbi said, “And now it is time to go home and hug our children or our parents or someone we care about and call someone and tell someone that you love them.”

Many lingered, especially young friends of the Butwin children, talking among themselves in tearful knots as a dutiful custodian put away extra chairs. Members of the Jewish Crisis Response Team, easily identifiable with nametags that featured the multicolor Jewish Family & Children’s Service logo, talked with those they could.

Despite a crowded parking lot, packed not only with cars but also with television trucks from the Valley’s TV news broadcasts, all was orderly, quiet and respectful, each person supporting the other.

Echad.

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