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
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: 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.
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
Photos by Amanda Ringstad
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, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Associate Rabbi at Adas Israel
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
Founding Rabbi of IKAR
Educator and Author
Palliative Care Physician, Author, and Public Advocate
Rector and Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy at American Jewish University
Senior Rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California
Director of Leadership Education at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America
Founder of Deathoverdinner.org, Drugsoverdinner.org & Seder2015.org
Rabbi and Founder of Mishkan Chicago
Director of Programs and a Clinical Pastoral Educator at the Center for Pastoral Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary
President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America
Founder of The Kitchen
Founding Spiritual Leader of Lab/Shul NYC and the Founding Director of Storahtelling, Inc.
Executive Director of JCC Manhattan
Assistant Head of School and Director of Judaic Studies at the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle
Founder of Or HaLev
Associate Director of Jewish Programming at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
Director of the Beit Midrash of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel, Tustin, CA
Director of Jewish Programming at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
Associate Rabbi of IKAR
Senior Rabbi of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and manager of its Spiritual Care Department
Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California
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.
Here are articles that cover The Project.
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.