Chabad course explores life, death and the afterlife in the age of COVID-19 – The Columbus Dispatch

Posted By on February 1, 2021

Danae King|The Columbus Dispatch

In a time punctuated by death, Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann wants people to learn how to appreciate life.

Kaltmann, executive director of the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center in New Albany, is encouraging people to take a virtual course titled Journey of the Soul.

The course, offered by the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, will explore beliefs about death, the soul and the afterlife. The Chabad Center is offering the six-session course over Zoom for $80 starting Wednesday. Feb. 3. It will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, and those interested can register at

Death is both mysterious and inevitable,Kaltmann, who is also one of the course instructors, saidin a statement. Understanding death as a continuation of life reveals the holiness of life while putting everything in a dramatically new context. The soul is on one long journey that is greater than each particular chapter.

The course, for Jewish and non-Jewish people, will begin by discussing Jewish beliefs on life and death.

Judaism emphasizes the importance of life on Earth over all else,though Jews do believe in heaven, said Chris Johnson, clinical professor of sociology at Texas State University. Johnson wrote a book on different religions views on the afterlife and death titled How Different Religions View Death & Afterlife.

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The Talmud says live each day like its your last day and that will be a very meaningful day, Kaltmann told The Dispatch.

The Talmud, the book of Jewish law, is one of the most challenging religious texts in the world to read.

You can't live a meaningful life unless you understand what life is all about, Kaltmann said of the course, which counts as continuing education for some medical and mental health professionals. What this is about is how to live a life. When you understand death, then that causes you to understand life.

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Kaltmann, who has worked in Columbus for 29 years, did four funerals in two weeks for the first time in December because of the number of people dying from the coronavirus.

He said that understanding death will cause people to live life with more meaning, especially because its important in Judaism to live for your loved ones who have died as their ambassador in this world.

Unlike some Christian denominations, Jewish people dont really focus on the afterlife, Johnson said.

Theyre more concerned about making this life better and this world (better), he said.

And Jews focus on thegrieving loved ones left behind after a person's deathand their care, Johnson said.

Jan Leibovitz Alloy, 68, of the East Side, said she knows there is a concept of heaven in Judaism but that shes not really familiar with what heaven actuallyis because it isnot emphasized.

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Alloy, who plans to take the course, has not lost any close family members during the pandemicbut remembers when her grandparents died and the Jewish rituals that comforted her during her time of grief.

The Jewish tradition of throwing a handful of dirt into a person's grave, for example, seemedlike a final goodbye, she said.

And shiva, a seven-day periodof mourning during which close relatives sit after a persons funeral, also helpedher grieve.

The shiva rituals, I think, are very comforting, Alloy said. To have people take care of you for seven days and talk to you and tell stories about your loved ones. And the persons name is mentioned over and over and over. I think thats very comforting.

Alloy, who is Jewish, thinks a lot about death when it comes to her parents, who are still alive but well into their 90s.

"I wonder,geez, what comes next?" she said. "It's not that I will grieve any less when my parents die, but I will at least have a better understanding of what to do and what others have done before me."

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Alloyis hoping to learn more about what other faiths believe about death, grieving and the afterlife through the course.

Johnson believes that comparing different belief systems is important.

"Being able to independently investigate truth is absolutely essential for one's soul and one's outcome in life," he said, adding that classes like "Journey of the Soul" can be important learning opportunities for people investigating different faith approaches.

The reason Jews don't emphasize the afterlife is because, while they believe it's great, it's not the same because there is no free choice in heaven as there is on Earth,Kaltmann said.

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"When you choose to do good, that's powerful, that's the ultimate," he said.

Jews live life and do good deeds for their loved ones who have died, after they go through the mourning process, Kaltmann said.

He hopes the course gives people hope.

"By understanding we are our loved ones' ambassadors, then we can be more impactful in our daily lives," he said. "So by understandingdeath, we can live life."


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Chabad course explores life, death and the afterlife in the age of COVID-19 - The Columbus Dispatch

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