The way we die is the most important conversation Americans aren’t having. So we have gathered rabbis, theologians, and medical leaders to help create an interactive experience that transforms this potentially difficult conversation into one that everyone can be a part of.

Whether you are a Jewish insider, more on the margins, or Jewish-adjacent, we welcome you to invite friends and family, fill a table, and tap into some age-old Jewish wisdom around grieving and ritual, living and dying. We’ll provide the materials and a facilitation guide for a dinner that we hope will be engaging, empowering, and even uplifting.

Click Get Started to try out the dinner planning process or click here to learn more.

How Death Came to Dinner

A couple of years ago at a REBOOT summit in the beautiful mountains of Park City Utah, we (Michael Hebb and Sharon Brous) sat down for a drink. Michael shared the story of a mysterious and unfamiliar feeling of connectedness he experienced the moment of his father’s death when he was a child, and Sharon, a rabbi, said that she had heard many such inexplicable stories from congregants and friends in moments of loss. Michael spoke about the project of his life – a collaboration with his partner Angel Grant – www.DeathOverDinner.org – an effort to facilitate conversations about death… over dinner. After launching the website in 2012, nearly 250,000 death dinners had already taken place across the world, empowering people – young and old, healthy and ill – to talk about the most important and difficult topic – death.

We talked for hours about the desperate need to speak frankly and soulfully about death, and the great void in our lives when this conversation is left until it’s too late. We both agreed that Jewish resources on death and dying were not easy to come by, and it was all too rare to find opportunities to talk about Jewish approaches to end of life matters, Jewish tools to hold grief and the survival of the soul.

The next day, we convened a session to see if others were as interested in this topic as we were. Participants filled the room, tears filled all of our eyes, and we collectively agreed that we needed to do something to help make it easier to have this critical conversation.

We and our team have spent the past year speaking with rabbis, theologians, doctors and palliative care experts, and curating the finest materials we could get our hands on for folks to read, watch and listen in preparation for their dinners. We thought about the best prompts from the Jewish tradition – Talmudic texts, Rabbinic wisdom, song lyrics and poetry – that would open up the conversation at the table. We designed this site to be the beginning of a conversation, not the end. We hope that your dinner will only open you up to deeper learning and engagement.

Why the dinner table? We have found that the dinner table is one of the most forgiving places for difficult conversations. The ritual of breaking bread slows us down, creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity.

So we raise a generous glass to you and your loved ones and humbly submit Death Over Dinner: Jewish Edition, a collaboration between Death Over Dinner, IKAR and Reboot. It is our hope that this project helps change the conversation about how we prepare for and spend our final days, and inspires us to live with more intention and gratitude.

Michael Hebb and Rabbi Sharon Brous

 

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-10-34-27-am

Death Over Dinner (DOD): Death Over Dinner was originally designed in the U.S. by Michael Hebb and Angel Grant to encourage people to have conversations about end of life at the kitchen table rather than in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), when it’s often too late. DOD is an interactive website that encourages conversation to start with family and friends while breaking bread, and well in advance of an accident or an emergency when people are overwhelmed or unable to communicate. DOD educates people on the value of making decisions about their wishes, and expressing them to their loved ones by inspiring a series of uplifting and interactive dinners to transform the seemingly difficult conversation about death into an intimate, shared experience. DOD provides a range of tools, reading and support materials, as well as tips to get the conversation started. Dinner party hosts choose the guests and the menu and let the wine and conversations flow.

reboot_high_res_logo-1

Reboot: Reboot affirms the value of Jewish traditions and creates new ways for people to make them their own. Inspired by Jewish ritual and embracing the arts, humor, food, philosophy, and social justice, we produce creative projects that spark the interest of young Jews and the larger community. Among our productions are events, exhibitions, recordings, books, films, DIY activity toolkits, and apps. Since our inception, 504 network members, over 800 community organization partners, and hundreds of thousands of people have looked to Reboot to rekindle connections and re-imagine Jewish lives full of meaning, creativity, and joy.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-10-44-17-am

 

IKAR: IKAR launched in 2004 in an effort to reclaim the vitality and relevance of Jewish religious practice and reimagine the contours of Jewish community. IKAR is seen as a positive and proactive response to shifting trends in affiliation and communal engagement in the Jewish community, inspiring a diverse community to help reanimate Jewish life through imaginative engagement with ritual and spiritual practice and a deep commitment to social justice. Fusing piety and hutzpah, obligation and inspiration, we are harnessing an untapped energy in the Jewish community, attracting and mobilizing Jews to contribute their vast intellectual and creative resources to address real world concerns effectively and unapologetically. In addition to establishing a vital presence in Los Angeles, we have also become a leading model of engaging, authentic, resonant Jewish life that is inspiring change in synagogues and communities around the country.

 

That’s enough about us, this is about you. The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversation. The ritual of breaking bread creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity. It offers an environment that is more suitable to discuss end of life. We raise a generous glass to you and your loved ones and humbly submit version 1.0 of Death Over Dinner: Jewish Edition. We hope it helps you and your family live well until the end.

 

 

We are proud recipients of a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and a grant from The Diane & Guilford Glazer Foundation

 

 Jewish-Community-Foundation

built by Civilization

Photos by Amanda Ringstad

Advisors

We are grateful for the advice and support of our exceptional Advisory Committee. Our deep appreciation to all involved, and especially to Rabbi Ronit Tsadok and Becca Bubis for coordinating the research process.

 

Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh

Rabbi

Rabbi Laura Geller

Rabbi, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Rabbi Aaron Alexander

Associate Rabbi at Adas Israel

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean's Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is Vice President of American Jewish University in Los Angeles

Rabbi Sharon Brous

Founding Rabbi of IKAR

Dr. Erica Brown

Educator and Author

Dr. Ira Byock

Palliative Care Physician, Author, and Public Advocate

Rabbi Elliott Dorff

Rector and Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy at American Jewish University

Rabbi Ed Feinstein

Senior Rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California

Dr. Elana Stein Hain

Director of Leadership Education at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

Michael Hebb

Founder of Deathoverdinner.org, Drugsoverdinner.org & Seder2015.org

Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann

Rabbi and Founder of Mishkan Chicago

Allison Kestenbaum

Director of Programs and a Clinical Pastoral Educator at the Center for Pastoral Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary

Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer

President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America

Rabbi Noa Kushner

Founder of The Kitchen

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie

Founding Spiritual Leader of Lab/Shul NYC and the Founding Director of Storahtelling, Inc.

Rabbi Joy Levitt

Executive Director of JCC Manhattan

Rabbi Stuart Light

Assistant Head of School and Director of Judaic Studies at the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle

Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels

Founder of Or HaLev

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum

Rabbi

Rabbi Scott Perlo

Associate Director of Jewish Programming at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

Rabbi Mordecai Schwartz

Director of the Beit Midrash of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Rabbi Elie Spitz

Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel, Tustin, CA

Rabbi Shira Stutman

Director of Jewish Programming at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

Rabbi Ronit Tsadok

Associate Rabbi of IKAR

Shoshana Ungerleider, MD

Doctor

Rabbi Jason Weiner

Senior Rabbi of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and manager of its Spiritual Care Department

Rabbi David Wolpe

Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California

Library

We have compiled a range of written, visual and audio materials to choose from. The library contains diverse views reflecting a range of personal experiences. We invite you to click on each category to explore the items most interesting and relevant to you, and if you have resources you think are exceptional, please share them with us.

Read Watch Listen
  • It’s Time We Talk
    In this exceptional Yom Kippur sermon, Rabbi Ed Feinstein implores us to do the hard work – have the difficult conversations, draft wills, complete advanced directives – in order to leave gifts of peace, wholeness and gratitude in death.
  • Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
    Poet Dylan Thomas offers a hypnotic composition about the dying process. His chutzpadik charge rails against more conventional approaches.
  • A New Vision for Dreams of the Dying
    Dreams and visions of the dying have captivated cultures for thousands of years, including numerous accounts throughout Rabbinic literature. Explore what anthropologists, theologians, and sociologists have learned from from these “deathbed phenomena”.
  • Becoming a Friend to the End
    The greatest kindness (hesed) we can offer is to participate in the burial process. But we can also bring holiness and comfort to someone approaching death. A story of an unlikely friendship.
  • In Search of a Good Death
    In order to honor a dying person until the last moment, it helps to know what that process will look like. Jane Brody describes the potentially confusing final hours or days when a person is “actively dying”.
  • Jewish Burial Equals Green Burial
    Each year, more than 90,000 tons of steel and over 2700 tons of copper and bronze are made into caskets. That’s enough metal to build a Golden Gate Bridge. But Jewish burial, like green burial, fosters returning to the earth as naturally as possible.
  • A Ritual to Remove a Wedding Ring
    The process of removing a wedding ring after the death of a partner is a significant milestone in the journey of grief. This Jewish ritual draws on traditional liturgy to make that moment meaningful.
  • How Millennials Mourn
    Was shiva ever meant to be sat alone? A twentysomething with no kids, no partner, and few adult obligations reflects on coping with parental loss without a conventional family structure in place.
  • Ghosts in the Machine
    A profound and unanticipated side effect of technology is that death no longer obeys any laws of finality. Funneled through social media, death lingers longer than a traditional Jewish mourning period of 30 days or 11 months might prescribe.
  • Prayer at the Funeral of Someone Who Committed Suicide
    When someone commits suicide, most people struggle to know what to say. Rabbi Joseph Meszler composed this prayer – the words we say when we have no words.
  • To Be Happier Start Thinking More About Your Death
    Every year, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) pushes us to consider, “What if this is it? Have I made the most of my time?” Like Buddhist death meditation, these questions can help us reconnect with our existential goals. Arthur Brooks asks, if we applied the “last-year test” to our lives, how much less time would we spend doing bupkes and how much more would we nurture relationships or nourish the soul?
  • Turn Into A Tree When You Die
    From the earth we were created, and with these burial pods developed by Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel, to the earth we can truly return. You can even choose the type of tree your seed pod will nourish.
  • How Doctors Die
    The Torah instructs us to “choose life.” But is that referring to quantity or quality? Ken Murray, MD shares why most doctors choose little end of life treatment for themselves, and are able to die gently.
  • Dying With Dignity and the Final Word on Her Life
    In the book of Samuel, King Saul asked his armor-bearer to help him die mercifully. Jane Lotter writes her own raw and poignant obituary before using Washington’s Death With Dignity Act to die peacefully.
  • Waking Up To Your World
    When Rabbi Eliezer told his students to repent one day before they die, they asked the obvious question: “how do we know when that day is?” Of course, we never know how much time we have left to fulfill the potential of our precious human birth. Given this, Pema Chodron asks us to consider, what is most important?
  • The Bitter End
    The students of Rabbi Judah the Prince desperately prayed that he should be stay alive, but a handmaid saw his suffering and intervened to help him die peacefully. Sometimes, as Jesse Ellison describes with her 92 year old grandmother, the most graceful thing one can do with death is accept it. But is this possible in America’s health care system?
  • Ten Commandments for the Caregiver
    Rabbi Earl Grollman offers ten practical and compassionate commandments for concerned caregivers.
  • Top Five Regrets of the Dying
    So long as we are living, we are capable of reflection and growth. Having worked for many years with patients in the final weeks of their life, Bronnie Ware shares the five most common regrets she encountered and the life lessons gained from facing one’s own mortality.
  • Reconsidering Kaddish: Four New Approaches to an Old Ritual
    Esther Kustanowitz interviews four people who are adding their own spin to the traditional practice of reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish.
  • Traditional Jewish Mourning Practices
    The Kavod v’Nihum society explains the stages of mourning in the Jewish tradition, from the moment of death through the yahrtzeit, the annual anniversary of death.
  • Good Grief: Is there a Better Way to be Bereaved?
    Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously changed the conversation around grieving when she articulated the stages of grief, yet in Western cultures, we don’t know how to grieve anymore. Meghan O’Rourke says we understimate the power of ritual and community in the grieving process.
  • What Really Matters at the End of Life
    A rabbinic teaching says that the greatest gift of all is simply being alive. BJ Miller, palliative care physician at Zen Hospice Project, creates a dignified, graceful end of life for his patients that includes staying present to the beauty of that gift, up to the very end.
  • New Ways to Think About Death
    For thousands of years, sacred space has played a central role in Jewish tradition. But when was the last time you considered the importance of where we die? In this short, provocative talk, architect Alison Killing looks at the buildings where death and dying happen, and asks us how where we die impacts how we die.
  • How Do we Heal Medicine
    Our medical systems are broken. Doctors are capable of extraordinary (and expensive) treatments, but they are losing their core focus: actually treating people. Doctor and writer Atul Gawande suggests we take a step back and look at new ways to do medicine — with fewer cowboys and more pit crews.
  • A Strange Relativity: Altered Time for Surgeon-Turned-Patient
    The Jewish calendar challenges us to sanctify and mark the passage of time. In this video, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, MD, describes how his perception of time as a neurosurgeon, cancer patient and new father changed when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in his mid-30’s and had to face his own mortality.
  • Before I Lost My Hair
    In this heartwrenching interpretation of the Psalm 90, Rachel Lopez Rosenberg reflects on her cancer treatments.
  • A Good Goodbye
    Certified thanatologist Gail Rubin delivers a humorous but insightful Jewish approach to mortality and end-of-life planning.
  • Having a Child Diagnosed with a Life Limiting Illness
    Jewish tradition offers a meaningful process for mourners after someone dies. But what about the grief that inevitably comes when a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and particularly when it is one’s child?
  • Mushroom Burial Suit
    Jewish burial seeks to return us simply to the earth. Artist Jae Rhim Lee wants us to go further: can we commit our bodies to a cleaner, greener Earth using a special burial suit seeded with pollution-gobbling mushrooms?
  • Before I Die I Want To…
    It’s the greatest Yom Kippur exercise ever. In her New Orleans neighborhood, artist Candy Chang turned an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard asking a fill-in-the-blank question: “Before I die I want to ___.” Her neighbors’ answers — surprising, poignant, funny — became an unexpected mirror for the community.
  • The Coffinmaker
    For Marcus Daly, building coffins is his avodah, his sacred service, a deeply personal and religious craft of love.
  • The Grieving Process: Coping with Death
    This highly accessible guide to mourning gives advice that we all could stand to be reminded of, whether we are the bereaved or in the role of comforter.
  • Find a Place of Rest
    Frank Ostaseski, Founder of the Metta institute, discusses the power of finding a Shabbat-like place of rest amidst chaos and activity, and in this case, right on the cusp of death.
  • Can We End Aging?
    If you could maintain optimal health up until the day you die, would you? Or is that playing God? Biomedical gerontologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey makes the case that aging is a disease that we can and should try to cure.
  • Jewish Mourning Rituals
    Jewish mourning rituals are a powerful guide through the darkest days. Learn the basics of the traditional Jewish mourning process in this short animated video from BimBam.
  • When Should Dying Patients Stop Treatment?
    In the mi sh’berakh – the prayer for healing – are we creating false hope? At what point should we stop asking for healing and focus instead on the end? In this video, Dr. Atul Gawande has a candid and intimate conversation with the widower of a deceased patient and apologizes for avoiding the reality of the imminent end.
  • An overview of The Conversation Project
    Dr. Kate Lally discusses Care New England role as a pioneer sponsor of The Conversation Project as well issues around end-of-life care, palliative care and hospice. The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. This nationwide campaign is focused on starting that conversation early so that they can take place at the dinner table, not in the intensive care unit. In order to become conversation-ready, Care New England has developed a conversation nurse model. That model consists of nurses that are employed and trained by Care New England to have these conversations with patients. After meeting with the patient, these nurses become advocates, and use their knowledge to consult on the patient’s case. Since its collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, The Conversation Project has been devoted to the improvement of care for all patients at the end of life.
  • What Really Matters at the End of Life
    At the end of our lives, what do we most wish for? For many, it’s simply comfort, respect, love. BJ Miller is a palliative care physician who thinks deeply about how to create a dignified, graceful end of life for his patients. Take the time to savor this moving talk, which asks big questions about how we think on death and honor life (TED Talk).
  • Death Questions from Kids
    Caitlin Doughty, from Ask a Mortician, fields questions from kids about death and dying.
  • Death Shall Have No Dominion
    Judaism asserts that death is not the end, since the memory of the deceased lives on as a blessing in the world. In this eerily beautiful poem, Dylan Thomas explores the mysery of eternity, adamant that death does not have the final say.
  • The Town Where Everyone Talks About Death
    In this community, talking about death is a comfortable conversation — neighbors kibbitz about who on the block hasn’t filled out their advance directive.
  • Contemplating Mortality
    Dr. Ira Byock is a leading figure in palliative care and hospice in the United States. He says we lose sight of “the remarkable value” of the time of life we call dying if we forget that it’s always a personal and human event, and not just a medical one. From his place on this medical frontier, he shares how we can understand dying as a time of learning, repair, and completion of our lives.
  • Death is Harder Than it Has to Be
    In his book The Best Care Possible, Dr. Ira Byock argues that the way most Americans die is a national disgrace — an ethical, moral and economic crisis that will get a great deal worse as the baby boomers age. How can we transform end of life care?
  • The Amen Effect
    Why can’t you say Mourner’s Kaddish alone in your living room? Rabbi Sharon Brous argues that the word “Amen” is one of the most powerful healing agents in the grieving process, and saying Amen to someone else’s Kaddish could very possibly change both of your lives.
  • Cliffhangers
    The great lesson of Yom Kippur is that we are standing at the edge of the abyss – something we could use to be reminded of even without a diagnosis. This could be paralyzing or liberating – let’s let it free us to become who we can be.
  • The Inevitability of Death
    When the death of a loved one reminds us of our own vulnerability and mortality, how do we choose life?
  • Funeral Exercise
    Dr. Stephen Covey asks us to visualize our own funeral, as a reminder of what’s most important in life.
  • Fire and Rain Song
    Music, we know, has tremendous healing power. James Taylor uses song to help him process his grief after losing a close childhood friend.
  • Heaven and Earth
    On Yom Kippur, the line between this world and the next is as fuzzy as it will be all year, especially during Yizkor, the memorial prayer. How can we touch the closeness?
  • The Show Must Go On
    Singing of his furious desire to live in spite of diminishing strength, this Queen song is an ode to Freddy Mercury’s terminal battle with HIV/AIDS, and resonates with the Jewish charge to “choose life!”
  • Bedside Manner
    It is still beyond human capability to predict when a person will die. So for doctors who must deliver that fatal news to patients, it can be a difficult and complicated conversation. Dr. Pauline Chen discusses.
  • What Doesn’t Kill You
    Tig was diagnosed with cancer. A week later she went on stage in Los Angeles and did a now-legendary set about her string of misfortunes.
  • Finding the Lesson in Loss
    Shiva and the Jewish mourning process is meant to help us grieve healthily. Actor Alicia Coppola describes the challenges and importance of grieving for herself after the death of her father.
  • On Suffering, Beliefs, and Dying
    Author Christopher Hitchens, diagnosed with cancer and chronicling his illness, reflects on prayer, solidarity and the cosmos.
  • Don’t Freak Out About Dying
    To everything there is a season. For 89 year old rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, entering “the December of his years” means thinking deeply about this final stage, and sharing his wisdom with the rest of us. Start at 8:50.
  • Culture of Dying
    With speech, the world was created. But if language is so important, why are we as Americans afraid to call death by its name? Stephen Jenkinson explains what this fear is doing to our culture and how we can change it. Listen from 8:30 – 25:00.
  • Breaking the Taboo Against Talking About Death
    Michael Hebb, founder of Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death, says how we want to die represents the most important and costly conversation Americans aren’t having. He explains how this project gives people the tools to move through these conversations.
  • Congratulations You Gonna Die
    British philosopher and Zen Scholar Alan Watts delivers a series of humorous yet thoughtful musings on death with a particular dry and lucid wit. Nothing particularly Jewish here, except for the idea that a death dinner ought to make you laugh.

Press

Here are articles that cover The Project.

Your Stories

I not only survived, but thrived talking about Death Over Dinner. Coming soon a collection of thoughts from a range of people who have already have attended a Death Over Dinner.

Who's Coming to Dinner?

In just a few steps, we’ll help you plan a dinner, invite your guests and prepare to lead a meaningful and inspiring conversation.

To get started, who will be joining you? We recommend a small group of 5-10 people.


Your Intention

Which of the following best describes you and your interest in this conversation? Your selection will help us guide you toward some curated content.


Read/Watch/Listen

In advance of your dinner, a little homework. We’ve curated some of the best articles, videos and audio content out there, which we hope will inspire deeper conversation at your table. Some of these resources are explicitly Jewish; others speak more generally to contemporary ideas about death and dying.

Click below to select one from each section for you and your guests.

Read
Watch
Listen

        Review and Edit

        Guests

        Edit

        Intention

        Edit

        Activate

        You are now ready to activate your dinner. Enter your email address and click ACTIVATE. We will send you a personalized email with invitation language to send to your guests that includes your Read/Watch/Listen selections and a guide to hosting and moderating the dinner discussion.

        We’re in beta!

        We’d Love to Hear Your Feedback

        Your Name *
        Your Location *
        Your Email *

        Partners

        We are building community partners who want to engage their communities in these conversations.

        Join us here.

        Sponsors & Donors