This document consists of all of the information we make available to our Shomrim, Congregational Coordinators, Facilitators, and the general public. It auto-updates whenever changes are made. It is not formatted as well as desired, but that's a work in progress. If you have questions about this, please contact josef (at) lastresponder (dot) net.

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Austin's Last Responders


What is Shmirah?

Shmirah is the Jewish tradition of prayerfully or mindfully accompanying the deceased between death and burial. During this momentous transition, the shomer (one who performs the mitzvah of shmirah – plural shomrim, feminine shomeret) honors the body of the deceased by offering a protective presence, and comforts the soul as it begins its new journey away from the body, its lifelong partner.

Shmirah has the distinction of being among the last acts of kindness you can do for another person, one that no two people can do for each other, and one for which the giver can never be thanked. Finally, respectful care when we can no longer care for ourselves is something that each one of us is bound to need someday.

To learn more about Jewish end-of-life practices, visit https://kavodvnichum.org/

For support in creating an Austin Shmirah-type system in your own community, contact the Facilitator (Main Menu->Contact Us).

Having technical problems or need to report something about the website? Please contact the Site Administrator (Main Menu->Contact Us).

What is Austin Shmirah?

Austin Shmirah is a volunteer partnership between Jewish congregations and similar organizations on one hand, and affiliated and unaffiliated individuals on the other. We network to provide shmirah for local Jewish deceased regardless of affiliation or lack thereof. Any shomer can join the team of any congregation whose requirements they meet. Thus, any deceased may be served by shomrim from across the community, no matter which congregation is hosting the shmirah. 

Who can be a shomer?

Anyone who is willing and able to pray, read, meditate, sing or play comforting music, and/or hold good intentions and kind thoughts for a couple of hours can join Austin Shmirah as a shomer.

  • Whether you’re a night owl looking for something to do at 3:00 AM, or a homemaker/retiree with flexibility during the daytime;
  • Whether you’re an introvert who thrives on time alone or a social butterfly who needs an incentive to commit to quiet reflection now and then;
  • Whether you’re an able-bodied person or a person living with a disability, seeking an equal-opportunity way to bless someone just by your own unique presence;
  • Whether you have an erratic, unpredictable schedule or are able to be “on call” for a particular shift whenever it materializes;
  • Whether you’re a young person wishing to honor those who came before you, or an older person anticipating how you’ll be cared for when you can no longer care for yourself;

... whoever you are, Austin Shmirah invites you to become one of the last people on earth to do an act of chesed – lovingkindness – for a fellow Jew.

How do congregations participate?

Each member congregation sets its own independent criteria for how it conducts the tradition of shmirah. Each congregation determines who may serve on its team (some have no restrictions at all, while others follow halachic or ritual guidelines), whether or not to schedule shmirah around the clock, whether or not to schedule shmirah on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, etc.

Each congregation appoints Shmirah Coordinators to schedule shifts and contact all shomrim who partner with the congregation when the need arises. Congregational Shmirah Coordinators can access online resources to contact their shomrim quickly and easily from any electronic device. They can easily buddy up with another coordinator when two deceased are present at the same funeral home.

Each congregation’s requirements are listed below. When registering as a shomer, please honor their wishes by partnering only with those whose requirements you meet.

Chabad of Greater Austin (COGA): Male kohanim may not serve; female kohanim may serve. Shomrim must be considered Jewish by (Orthodox) halachic standards. Please consult Rabbi Levertov (512-418-9770) or another Orthodox rabbi for further clarification. We ask that shomrim engage in appropriate reading (preferably Tehilim), prayer, or meditation during their shifts.

Congregation Agudas Achim (CAA, Conservative/Masorti): Shomrim must be born of a Jewish mother or have undergone a formal conversion that included mikvah (ritual immersion) and beit din (rabbinical court) and is recognized as binding by the rabbi of their own Austin congregation. Please consult your rabbi for further clarification. Kohanim and b’not kohanim (daughters of kohanim) may not serve. We ask that shomrim engage in appropriate reading, prayer, or meditation during their shifts.

Congregation Beth El (CBE, Traditional Conservative): Jews by birth to a Jewish mother or by formal conversion are invited to participate in shmirah. Male Kohanim are not eligible, but b'not Kohanim (women from Kohen families) are eligible. We prefer that shomrim read T'hillim (Psalms), but other appropriate reading is acceptable.

Congregation Beth Israel (CBI, Reform): We welcome all who wish to serve as shomrim (watchers), Jewish or not, and we will provide Tehilim (Psalms) and other texts for use during their shifts.

Congregation Kol Halev (CKH, Unaffiliated): No congregational restrictions. If an individual family requests restrictions, these will be specified in the email calling for shomrim.

Congregation Shalom Rav (CSR, RRC-affiliated – a Reconstructionist Congregation sponsoring Jewish Renewal in Austin): We invite all to serve as shomrim in the capacity that each one brings, shaped by their own unique spiritual path and fully conforming to any specifications that each family may request. We are grateful to be able to join with the wider Austin Jewish Community in influencing a positive passage of the Soul of the deceased from this world to the next.

Congregation Shir Ami (CSA, Reform): We welcome all who wish to serve as shomrim. Rabbi Reice will meet with families to discuss any personal requests or preferences they have. We provide Shomrim with Tehilim and other texts for their shifts.

Congregation Tiferet Israel (CTI, Orthodox): We welcome those who wish to share in this ultimate mitzvah of kavod hamet (honoring the deceased). Men and women who are born of a Jewish mother or underwent an Orthodox conversion are invited to serve. Please consult Rabbi Dan (847-612-3393) with any questions you may have. Male kohanim may not serve as shomrim, although they may be involved in the administrative portions of the mitzvah. We ask that shomrim engage in appropriate readings (preferably Psalms), prayer, or meditation during their shifts.

Temple Beth Shalom (TBS, Reform): We welcome all who wish to serve as shomrim. If an individual family makes specific requests, these will be communicated in the e-mail calling for shomrim.

Wandering Minyan: No restrictions on who may serve.

How do shomrim participate?

Every shomer is free to choose which congregation(s) to partner with, as long as they meet its/their criteria. Shomrim choose when to serve and how often. We request that each shomer serve a minimum of one or two shifts per year.

As a member of Austin Shmirah, you can:

  • perform shmirah once in your lifetime just for the experience, and then cross it off your bucket list;
  • take shifts while you yourself are in mourning, as an opportunity to process your own grief while comforting others;
  • honor the memory of a loved one by serving yearly around the time of their yarzeit (anniversary of death); or
  • … our favorite! … join the ranks of those who accompany the deceased on their journey every chance they get, over many years.

Who benefits from Austin Shmirah?

The cooperative nature of Austin Shmirah benefits congregations, shomrim, and those we serve in a number of ways.

  • Smaller congregations get reinforcements from the rest of the community when they have many shifts to fill
  • Shomrim from larger congregations avoid burnout, because shomrim from the larger community fill many shifts 
  • Shomrim who find great meaning in this mitzvah can increase their opportunities by partnering with multiple congregations
  • All deceased are honored by shomrim from across the community, in keeping with their own congregation’s approach
  • Our services are offered free of charge
  • Because shomrim meet briefly when changing shifts and come together at the annual Chevrah Kadisha Banquet, connections are built across the Jewish community and a sense of cross-denominational goodwill is fostered
  • All this is a comfort to the loved ones of the deceased as well 

How do I get started?

To Join Austin Shmirah: In the Main Menu, click the "Join As" link corresponding to your desired role and fill out/submit the registration form.

To shmooze over coffee (or on Zoom) about shmirah in general or Austin Shmirah in particular, click Contact Us. Then click on the name of one of the Facilitators and shoot her an email.

For spiritual and practical guidelines on how to perform shmirah, visit https://kavodvnichum.org/taharah-shmirah/.

How long are shmirah shifts?

At the choice of the individual shmirah coordinator, shift length can range from one hour up to 24 hours. Because Austin Shmirah's shomrim are volunteers, coordinators are encouraged not to exceed a shift length of 2.5 to 3 hours. 

In individual cases, the coordinator and shomer may agree to start or end a shift at a time that doesn't match the schedule. This is typically done to accommodate Shabbat observance or to give full shmirah to a deceased who will leave the funeral home after the last shift ends.  You are not obligated to extend your shift if it’s not convenient for you. 

What is the role of the Congregational Shmirah Coordinator?

Each member congregation handles the needs of its own deceased, with help from shomrim from across the community. To ensure each congregation’s autonomy and to guard against any one congregation’s becoming the “little red hen,” each congregation appoints one or more in-house coordinators.

The primary support person for all Congregational Shmirah Coordinators is the Facilitator. (There may be two or more Co-Facilitators sharing the workload, but for simplicity, we'll use the term "Facilitator" for all of them.) Please feel free to contact her (Main Menu->Contact Us) to discuss any aspect of your role as Congregational Shmirah Coordinator.

The primary roles of the Congregational Shmirah Coordinator include:

  • Create a Shmirah schedule for each deceased served through their congregation
  • Reach out to shomrim to fill the shifts
  • Communicate with shomrim and funeral homes as needed to ensure optimal shift coverage, personal safety, and building security
  • Consult with the Facilitator as needed

One-time-only and occasional roles of the Congregational Shmirah Coordinator include:

  • If the congregation is not yet a part of Austin Shmirah, contact the Facilitator for help getting started
  • Recruit one or more backup coordinators to take over when the primary coordinator can't be on duty or just needs a break. Tasks and schedules can be divvied up in any way the coordinators see fit
  • Recruit new shomrim from within the congregation
  • Encourage the congregation’s shomrim and chevrah kadishah members to attend the annual Chevrah Kadisha banquet and learning sessions (usually scheduled on the evening of Adar 7, in February or March)
  • Consult with the congregation’s spiritual leadership on shmirah-related matters
  • Answer congregants’ questions about Austin Shmirah or shmirah in general, or direct their questions to the Facilitator or to the congregation’s spiritual leadership

We recommend working closely with your congregation’s spiritual leadership in all shmirah-related decision-making.

How do I become a Shmirah Coordinator for my congregation?

Wow, nobody’s ever asked us that before!

If your congregation is already a member of Austin Shmirah, reach out to your Lead Coordinator as follows:

  1. Click Coordinator List (Shomer’s Menu).
  2. Search for the name of your congregation in the column labeled “For whom are you serving as a Shmirah Coordinator?” There may be several entries for your congregation.
  3. In the column labeled “Select your coordinator level,” your lead coordinator’s entry will be “Primary.” Get that person's permission to serve as Shmirah Coordinator. If your congregation doesn’t yet have a Shmirah Coordinator, get the permission of your spiritual leader.
  4. Then click Join as a Shmirah Coordinator (Main Menu). Click Register, fill out the form, and click Process Subscription.
  5. Notify the Facilitator so that your new account can be activated: Click Contact Us (Main Menu), click on the name of the Facilitator, and send an email.

If your congregation is not yet part of Austin Shmirah, contact the Facilitator (Main Menu->Contact Us) for help getting started.

What is the role of the Facilitator?

The Facilitator handles action items that concern the entire Austin Shmirah community. The activities of the current Facilitator include the following.

  • Support all Congregational Coordinators. The Facilitator trains, supports, advises, and cheerleads for the shmirah coordinators of all member congregations, but does not schedule shomrim for them. Much of the “training” can now be accomplished just by reading the Instructions and FAQs in the Shomer's and Coordinator’s Menus. Still, the Facilitator is just a phone call or text message away if you need additional support or a one-on-one conversation
  • Communicate with the webmaster on website design, development, and troubleshooting
  • Engage in city-wide recruitment of new shomrim. Very often, all that’s needed to spark interest in shmirah is facetime with someone who’s passionate about it and presents it as an engaging, accessible mitzvah. By speaking at your congregation or community event, the Facilitator can raise awareness of Austin Shmirah, inspire new individuals to volunteer, and give well-established, active participants a fresh appreciation of the value of their service. The Facilitator also supports Congregational Coordinators in recruiting shomrim on their own
  • Activate profiles of new members (both shomrim and Congregational Coordinators) and delete those of former members
  • Support congregations joining Austin Shmirah. The Facilitator can invite non-member congregations to become a part of the Austin Shmirah network, or suggest ways for member congregations to become more active. Currently all Austin-area congregations participate in Austin Shmirah
  • Educate the general community. The Facilitator can help introduce our non-Jewish friends, neighbors, and colleagues to Jewish perspectives on end-of-life topics. Interfaith panels, end-of-life conferences, and other invitations to speak are all venues for sharing with our non-Jewish friends  
  • Prepare and distribute annual reports. The Facilitator writes a yearly report informing Austin Shmirah members of the total number of members (broken down by congregation of affiliation); number of shifts posted/filled by each congregation and its members during the year; congregations that joined during the year; and more. Informing shomrim of what they’ve collectively accomplished throughout the year gives them a sense of pride, reminds them that many others in our community do similar mitzvot behind the scenes, and inspires them to continue serving
  • Organize the Annual Chevrah Kadishah Banquet and learning sessions. It’s traditional for chevrei kadishah (Jewish burial societies) to gather once a year for a festive meal and learning opportunity. The traditional date is Adar 7, which is said to be the yorzeit (anniversary of death) of Moses. Our banquet is attended by taharah caregivers, shomrim, rabbis, cantors, and Jewish funeral directors. Spouses and life partners are invited. The banquet has become a joyful opportunity for people who typically serve in near-isolation to meet, greet, eat, and learn from one another
    • Sometimes our banquet is a dairy/veggie pot-luck and sometimes it’s a catered event
    • Our presenters have included shomrim, taharah caregivers, clergy, funeral directors, chaplains, and end-of-life doulas
    • Presentations have encompassed an enormous range of topics, including: 
      • traditional Jewish views of the soul’s journey after death
      • care of LGBTQ deceased
      • the ethics of scientific exhibits using actual human bodies
      • mourning in the digital age
      • death rituals from around the world (slide presentation by a world-traveling anthropologist)
      • the Chevrah Kadisha in Jewish art
      • Victorian death and mourning rituals (presented by a shomeret who collected Victorian death-related artifacts)
      • being the child of a parent who died by suicide

If this list of activities seems intimidating, keep in mind that most of them are discretionary, not required, and have been added organically over time. Future Austin Shmirah Facilitators are encouraged to steer the organization in the ways that suit their own personalities and the needs of the community at that time.

Helpful Traits of a Facilitator

Certain personality traits can serve a Facilitator well. Here are some that have been assets to the current Facilitator.

  • Expects to live in the community for an extended period of time
  • Passionate about serving Jewish deceased in both spiritual and ritual forms
  • Willing and able to interact respectfully with people from across the entire Jewish community, from Orthodox to Reform/Reconstructionist and the unaffiliated
  • Comfortable having each congregation make its own rules, and having each shomer make their own decisions on how and when to serve
  • Computer literate
  • Organized
  • Enjoys tinkering with new ways to enhance and/or streamline the different elements of a system like this one
  • … And let’s just admit it: It doesn’t hurt to have a touch of OCD

Facilitators in Training

We who serve the final needs of the deceased are perhaps more aware than most that, at some unknowable time, each of us will be on the receiving end of this mitzvah. Austin Shmirah has a trusted individual in training, who can take on the role of Facilitator (either permanently or on an interim basis) if a replacement is suddenly needed. If you’d like to be considered as a future Austin Shmirah Facilitator, please contact the current Facilitator (Main Menu->Contact Us).

How was Austin Shmirah impacted by the coronavirus?

Several practices arose during the pandemic that are still available to us and our congregations if we choose to use them.

  • The shift confirmation email now includes a link to online reading and listening materials that shomrim can tap into during their shifts. 
  • Coordinators can select "Shmirah at Home" as the location. Shomrim would find a quiet place at home to read, meditate, or pray during their shift. This option is rarely used at this time. To see if it's acceptable to serve your shift from home, contact the coordinator on duty before you sign up. Please graciously accept any answer they give you. 
  • If you're uncomfortable serving your shift inside the funeral home, ask your coordinator if it's acceptable to serve from your car. Again, please graciously accept any answer they give you.

End of FAQ

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Instructions for Shomrim


Here you can find step-by-step instructions on how to sign up for shmirah shifts, cancel shifts, and more. Please start with First Steps for New Shomrim and Signing Up for Shift, explore other topics at your own pace. 

Please don’t be intimidated by the level of detail of some of the instructions. We’ve intentionally spelled out every single step so that even a newly minted shomer with minimal computer skills can do it all on their own. For additional help, contact your on-duty shmirah coordinator or Facilitator Gail Tosto (Shomer’s Menu-> Coordinator List). Gail is not available on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

For New Shomrim: Preliminary Steps

Create contacts for Austin Shmirah and for each of the coordinators you may hear from. This will help you recognize when any of them is contacting you about a shmirah.

  • Add "Austin Shmirah" to your directory, with the URL lastresponder.net/austin and phone number 855-869-9001. "Shomrim Needed" text messages are sent from that number, not from the phone of each individual coordinator 
  • Click Coordinator List (Shomer's Menu). For each coordinator at the congregation(s) you've chosen to partner with, create an email/phone contact. Note that some congregations have more than one coordinator
  • Consider creating a contact for the funeral home(s) you expect to go to most often, adding a note about the door code. To get this information, contact the funeral home or the Facilitator (Contact Us, Main Menu)

When shomrim are needed, a coordinator will send you an email and a text message (if you authorized text messaging) with details and instructions.

Signing Up for a Shift

When shomrim are needed, you should receive an email from the shmirah coordinator on duty, with a Subject line such as “Shomrim Needed” or “Baruch Dayan haEmet” (“Blessed is the True Judge,” the traditional response to news of a death). To take a shift, refer to that email or follow these instructions:

  1. Click the large blue Take/Cancel a Shift button.
  2. Click on the shmirah for the deceased mentioned in the coordinator’s email.
  3. Click in the space below the red instructions. Select an open (black) shift from the popup list.*  
  4. Click Save Changes. 

*Tips for the technically challenged:

  • To select several shifts at once, hold down the Ctrl (PC) or Command (Mac) key while making your selections 
  • To see additional shifts, use the scroll bar to the right of the list of selectable shifts

You will receive a confirmation email, which includes an Add to Calendar link, shift cancellation instructions, and a link to online reading and listening materials for your shift. 

Reporting for Your Shift: Practical Guidelines

This section covers the nuts-and-bolts of serving a shift at our usual locations. For suggestions on making the most of your gift of time and care for the deceased, click FAQs, then "What should I do during my shift? The spiritual side of shmirah."

  • Bring your cell phone and keep the ringer on. Having your phone handy can save headaches if you need to contact the shomer serving right before or after you, or vice versa
  • Please arrive at the funeral home at or before your appointed start time
  • You are not responsible for staying after your shift is over. If you’re not relieved on time, please try calling your relief person or the shmirah coordinator before you leave. (See Accessing the Shmirah Schedule, below) 
  • If no staff is present at the funeral home, be sure to secure the door properly before you leave. Make sure the coordinator gives you the door code. (See Parking at/Entering the Funeral Home After Office Hours, below)
  • You may sit in the same room as the deceased or, if you prefer, outside the room
  • Participating funeral homes provide a comfortable area for serving your shift. Some keep afghans available just for shomrim, which can come in handy on chilly nights
  • The taharah (ritual washing and dressing) is typically done shortly before the funeral, and the body is usually kept under refrigeration until then. If there is no casket in the sitting area, do not be alarmed. The deceased is on the premises, the mitzvah is valid, and you are indeed accompanying the deceased
  • Contact the coordinator on duty if you have any concerns during your shift. (See the coordinator's email or Shomer's Menu, Coordinator List)

Canceling a shift

Please keep in mind: Shmirah is always done on short notice, and it may be hard for the coordinator to refill a shift that gets canceled. Please cancel ASAP, cancel only in case of an unavoidable emergency, and, if possible, sign up for another shift at a time that works better for you. 

To cancel a shift, click Take/Cancel a Shift. Select the relevant shmirah. In the shift box, click on the X of the shift you want to cancel; it will disappear from the box. Then click Save Changes.

The coordinator can also cancel your shift for you if you reach out to them. 

Accessing the Shmirah Schedule 

You can view or download an up-to-the-minute schedule of any ongoing shmirah. You may need to have Excel installed on your device in order to do this. 

Important: The online shmirah schedule does not include open shifts, so carefully check the date and start/end times of each shift. Shifts covering multiple deceased are identified as "DUP" (duplicate). 

  • Click Take/Cancel a Shift and stay on that page
  • Under Download Shifts, select the shmirah for your deceased, then click Download. If using an iPhone, select View or Download
  • Open the file*
  • Find your own name (column F). Read the date and start/end times of your own shift (columns B through E) 
  • Check the date and end time of the shift listed right above yours. If they match your own date and start time, you're relieving that shomer. If there's a gap, the shift immediately before yours is still open 
  • Check the date and start time of the shift listed right below yours. If they match your date/end time, that shomer is relieving you. If there's a gap, the shift immediately after yours is still open

*Tip for the technically challenged: If cells are filled with hashtags or not all content is visible, place your cursor over the right edge of that column's (gray) heading. (Typically the heading is just a letter.) Holding down the mouse key, drag the right margin of the heading to the right. You should now see all data in that column.

Parking at/Entering the Funeral Home After Office Hours

The funeral homes that care for our deceased extend a great privilege to us in allowing us to be there after office hours. It’s of utmost importance not to compromise their security or your personal safety.

If the funeral home has a door code, make sure the coordinator gives it to you before your shift starts.

Austin Natural Funerals (3742 Far West Blvd. #104)

  • If you use GPS to find the building, be sure it’s set for Far West Blvd, not Far W Blvd! That address exists, but it's far from Austin Natural Funerals
  • Park in front of the building
  • At the door, enter the 6-digit code that the coordinator gave you
  • When arriving and leaving, be sure the door locks behind you by giving it a push (from inside) or a tug (from outside)

 Cook Walden (6100 North Lamar)

  • Park in the back parking lot on the south side of the building (toward downtown)
  • Walk to the right of the garage door and the adjacent coded door. Follow the wall until you come to a recessed door
  • Enter the code given to you by the coordinator.
  • Enter the building, then walk forward until you reach the sitting area
  • Contact the shomer on duty (or your shmirah coordinator) if you have trouble entering the building or finding the sitting area
  • To exit, leave through the door you entered

Weed-Corley-Fish (5416 Parkcrest Drive)

  • Park in the front parking lot and ring the doorbell. A staff member should answer the door. 
  • Contact the shomer on duty (or your shmirah coordinator) if you have trouble entering the building or finding the sitting area
  • To exit, leave through the door you entered

Updating/Editing Your Profile 

From the Main Menu, click Edit My Profile. Enter any changes you wish to make. Then click Update. 

Website Troubleshooting and Tips for the Technically Challenged

This section is a work in progress. Please come back later. 

1. Website quirks: 

   C. How to download your event and load it onto your calendar

End of FAQ

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Shomer FAQs


What should I do during my shift? The spiritual side of shmirah

The primary roles of the shomer are (1) to protect the body of the deceased (no longer a significant practical concern in modern times) and (2) to accompany a newly deceased person as their body and soul end their lifelong partnership and transition separately, out of familiar territory and into whatever comes next. 

Some congregations specify how they want their shomrim to engage during their shifts. To see these guidelines, go to the Home page and click “How do congregations participate?” Here are some additional suggestions. 

  • It’s traditional to read from the Book of Psalms, the Book of Job, or other appropriate Jewish texts. Austin Natural Funerals keeps an assortment of appropriate reading materials on hand; other funeral homes may supply some reading materials 
  • It's also traditional not to read from the Torah itself. That's because "Torah gladdens the heart," which may be considered contrary to the spirit of shmirah
  • For both traditional and innovative materials, visit the Virtual Shmirah Library at https://kavodvnichum.org/virtual-shmirah-library/. This link appears in every "shift taken" confirmation email 
  • From the Home page, peruse the contents of End of Life Thoughts. These pieces – some original, some shared from other sources – are contributed by members and supporters of Austin Shmirah
  • Some shomrim sing or play an instrument. During business hours, get the staff’s permission first
  • Many shomrim meditate, talk to the deceased, or simply keep a mindful presence with the deceased
  • Some shomrim tune in to their intuitions and “listen” to the deceased. If you sense that the individual you’re accompanying would be comforted by a less traditional approach, do whatever seems right (within reason) to honor them and help them on their way
  • The funeral home may host a wake, funeral, or memorial service for another deceased during your shift. Some of these events can get a bit boisterous! This is fine. It’s very appropriate for mourners of all backgrounds to express themselves freely at a funeral home. If you find it distracting, one option is to ask a staff member if there's a quieter area that you can move to. Another option is to think of yourself as supporting and comforting not only our Jewish deceased, but the deceased and mourners from another tradition as well. You can do this by giving their need to express themselves priority over your wish to concentrate fully

No matter how you spend your shmirah shift, the most important thing is to be mindful and respectful of the body and soul of the person for whom you are present. Your care and good wishes are among the very last things they will ever need from anybody. We shomrim have the privilege of making this momentous transition special and comforting for each person we serve. 

How can I contact a Congregational Coordinator?

The Coordinator List (Shomer's Menu) provides the name, contact info, affiliation, and level (primary, first backup, etc.) of each Austin Shmirah coordinator. During an active shmirah, start by contacting the coordinator who sent out the "Shomrim Needed" email. If that coordinator is unreachable and the matter is urgent, contact any additional shmirah coordinators at the same congregation, or Facilitator Gail Tosto, who can also be found in the Coordinator's List.  

What does it mean to be “on call?”

Shmirah is an unpredictable mitzvah! To reduce the element of surprise, you can put yourself “on call” for a particular shift whenever it arises.

It’s important to understand that the shift is not reserved for the on-call shomer; anyone can take it. Rather, the on-call shomer’s time is reserved for the shift, in the event that a need should materialize. The on-call shomer must sign up on the website as usual.

Being on call is optional, but here’s why we encourage you to consider it if you’re predictably available at a given time.

  • For busy shmirah coordinators, having shomrim on call streamlines the task of filling shifts. The coordinator knows exactly whom to call first at any given time
  • For the shomer, being on call has a psychological advantage: Instead of unexpectedly having to add an urgent obligation to your schedule, you’ll feel like you’ve been let off the hook when your shift ends up not materializing – and most of the time, it doesn't!

How to put yourself on call for the shift of your choice

  • Click Edit My Profile (Main Menu, but you have to be logged in to see it). Scroll down to the “On-Call Option” section
  • Choose the day of the week you’re willing to be on call. In the popup menus, select a shift and how frequently you’re willing to serve it. You can choose any frequency from once a week to once a month
  • Consider adding your “on-call” shift to your online calendar and set it up to send you a reminder. Each time your shift approaches, you can check your email messages to see if a need has arisen
  • If your shift comes and goes without a notification, you’re off the hook! If you do hear that shomrim are needed, sign up on the website as usual. If your shift has already been taken by someone else, you may either take any open shift or just skip it this time 

How can I make life easier for the shmirah coordinators?

The tasks of a Congregational Shmirah Coordinator have some built-in challenges. Coordinators are typically on duty round the clock, six days a week. Whenever there's a death in the congregation, your friendly shmirah coordinator immediately turns their attention to scheduling shifts, “babysits” the signup list, and makes cold calls until every shift is filled. Even with today’s high-tech tools, it can take hours to fill all shifts, always on short notice. Here are some tips to help you lighten the load for your shmirah coordinator.

  • Sign up ASAP. The faster shifts are filled, the less pressure the coordinator feels and the sooner they can get back to other pursuits and other mitzvahs
  • Take more than one shift if you can. Shmirah coordinators can now choose shift lengths of just one hour, 90 minutes, or longer. If you're able to serve for two, three, or even more hours, please consider taking two or more consecutive shifts  
  • Take a fast-approaching shift. If it's equally convenient for you to take a shift immediately or sometime later on, choosing the fast-approaching shift is particularly helpful
  • Take a “hard-to-fill” shift, typically late at night. Few people volunteer for these shifts on a regular basis, and they risk burnout when they do it over and over again. If you can do a late-night shift just once in a while, it will make a great difference to both the “overnight regulars” and the coordinator
  • Consider putting yourself “on call” for a particular shift. See "What does it mean to be 'on call?'"
  • If you’re able, sign up for your shift yourself. Instructions are given in the coordinator's "Shomrim Needed" email, on the Take a Shift page, and in the Instructions (Shomer's Menu). If you still need help, contact the on-duty coordinator by phone call or text, not email. The the coordinator can then walk you through it with a shift that’s available in real time
  • Keep phone calls short. If you’re not available, there’s no need to go into detail about your other obligations. You can simply say, “Sorry, I can’t do it this time,” and let the coordinator move on to the next phone call. Please avoid questions about how the deceased passed away, when and where the funeral is, which family members are coming in from out of town, and so forth. The shmirah coordinator usually doesn’t have this information, is not authorized to speak for the family, and needs to focus on filling the shifts
  • If you can't serve, do not phone the coordinator to inform them of this. Phone calls explaining each person’s reasons for not serving tie up the coordinator’s line and make it harder to reach people who might be available. If you’d still like to explain why you can't serve, use text or email, not a phone call
  • If you can serve, do not contact the coordinator by email to take a shift. Your coordinator can't sign you up without your user name and password. In any case, the shift you want may be filled by the time the coordinator sees your email. To consult the coordinator while choosing your shift, text or call them so the two of you can work in real time
  • “Playing Chicken”: Some people like to wait and see if a particular shift gets filled, then sign up later if and only if it's still open at a certain time. This is perfectly fine. Just let the coordinator in on the game! Text or email them saying you’re playing chicken and you'll take Shift X if no one else does by Time Y. The shift will remain open for now, but the coordinator can rest easy knowing it will definitely be filled one way or another. 

End of FAQ

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Bare-Bones Instructions


Here are the bare minimum instructions for your four most urgent tasks, with no explanations or additional info. Do not second-guess them! For a fuller understanding, read the corresponding instructions in the Coordinators’ Full Instructions and FAQs. Only after reading the Full Instructions, call Area Coordinator Gail Tosto for additional help (Shomer’s Menu->Coordinator List).

Posting a Shmirah for a Newly Deceased

1. Click Create a Shmirah and fill out/make selections for each section. 

2. Click Save. If your shmirah overlaps with another shmirah at the same location and the adjustments made to your shmirah don’t meet your needs, see the sections on Sharing Overlapping Shifts in Full Instructions.  

3. Block unneeded shifts (optional). Place your cursor on the shift you want to block. To block multiple shifts, click on a shift, hold down the Ctrl (PC) or Command (Mac) key, and click on each additional shift you want to block.

4. Check all your information, then Save again.

5. Important: Now see "Contacting All Your Shomrim by Email" and "Sending a Text Message to Your Shomrim."

6. Please do not delete your entry after your shmirah ends.   

Contacting All Your Shomrim by Email

1. Select your own template (Send a Notification – Shmirah Coordinator's Menu). Your template lists you in the Creator column.

2. Change the Subject line if you wish.

3. In the line beginning with "Attachments," select Lists. Select your own congregation’s mailing list. If this is your first email about a new shmirah, select Coordinators as well. 

4. Scroll down to the email panel (under HTML Version). Personalize the message for this particular shmirah. If you're not willing to permanently alter this message, see Full Instructions.

5. Click Preview/Send (top of page). Carefully check all content, your signature, and that the recipients are your own congregation's shomrim. To make changes, click Edit (top right). 

6. Click Send, then Send again on the next page. If a message appears indicating number of users, select “No, send to all users.” 

7. Now see "Sending a Text Message to All Your Shomrim."

Sending a Text Message to Your Shomrim

1. Click Send a Text (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu).

2. Select your personalized “Shomrim Needed” text template. If you don't yet have one, see Full Instructions. 

3. Check the message in the phone icon. Make any desired changes. 

4. Click Preview/Send, then make the following selections:

  • Parameters section: Select One Time Only. Do not click Send yet! 
  • Select Send Now
  • Under “Filter Your Receivers Based on Your”: select Community Management Extension
  • On the next line, select AcySMS Groups
  • From the pop-up list, choose your own congregation 

5. Now, back in the Parameters section, click Send.

6. Click Send again.

Managing a Shmirah After Business Hours

1. Inform the funeral director/staff that people will be coming in and out overnight. The funeral home's alarm system will have to be deactivated.

2. Most important: Ask the funeral director for the code to the door

3. Email the following information to shomrim serving after business hours and, optionally, to the funeral director. You can find the relevant contacts in the CSV (Excel) sheet downloadable from the Take/Cancel a Shift page.

  • The door code for the funeral home. 
  • Open "Parking at/Entering the Funeral Home After Office Hours" (Shomer’s Menu, Instructions). Copy the entire section of the funeral home you’re using and paste it into your email message to your shomrim

End FAQ

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Coordinator Instructions


Below are instructions on using the Coordinator’s portion of the website. We suggest you become familiar with the Instructions and FAQs in the Shomer's Menu as well.

Please don’t be intimidated by the level of detail of some of the instructions. We’ve intentionally spelled out every single step so that even a newly minted coordinator with minimal computer skills can make full use of all resources on their own. Many of the tasks address one-time or occasional situations; others will become second nature with just a little experience. 

If you need assistance, contact Area Coordinator Gail Tosto (Coordinator List – Shomer’s Menu), who’s happy to walk you through any action you want to take. It’s best to call Gail during a practice run. Gail is not available on Shabbat or Jewish Holidays.

For New Shmirah Coordinators: Preliminary Steps

Start by creating two simple tools for your personal use. These are key to scheduling shmirahs on the Last Responder system.

  • Create an email template for contacting your shomrim as a group. See Creating/Editing/Deleting an Email Template
  • Create your text message template, used to alert your shomrim that you've sent a "Shomrim Needed" email. See Creating/Editing/Deleting a Text Message Template

Next, do a practice run based on the instructions found in:

  • Posting a Shmirah for a Newly Deceased
  • Contacting All Your Shomrim by Email 
  • [Do not actually do this step in your practice; just read the instructions] Sending a Text Message to Your Shomrim

Shmirah Coordination in a Nutshell

To fill shifts for a newly deceased, perform these steps in the order listed. 

Step 1: Enter the relevant information for the shmirah on the website. See Posting a Shmirah for a Newly Deceased 

Step 2: Notify your entire team of shomrim by email. See Contacting All Your Shomrim by Email 

Step 3: Follow up your email with a text message to those who agreed to receive them. These days people are much more likely to notice a text than an email. See Sending a Text Message to Your Shomrim 

Step 4: To fill fast-approaching shifts, contact individual shomrim by telephone. For tips, see the FAQ "How do phone calls fit into the shift-filling process?” 

Posting a Shmirah for a Newly Deceased

1. Click Take/Cancel a Shift and see if there’s already a shmirah scheduled at the same location as yours on dates that overlap. If not, go to step 2. If your shmirah shares dates with an already posted shmirah at the same funeral home, your shift lengths and start times will be automatically adjusted to match that shmirah. This allows you to share shomrim, but the software has some quirks. Follow the steps in Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Workarounds for Technical Quirks. See also Sharing Shifts: Working with Another Coordinator, and Sharing Shifts: Etiquette.

2. Click Create a Shmirah (Shmirah Coordinator’s Menu). The form is self-explanatory, but here’s more information about some sections. 

  • Shift Length: Choose a shift length that you believe will make it easiest to fill the shmirah. Recommended shift lengths are 1 hour, 1.5 hours, and 2 hours daytime/2.5 hours nighttime. Avoid the 2-hour shift length, which creates the unpopular 2AM to 4AM shift. When using short shifts, encourage shomrim to take two or more consecutive shifts if possible. Since our shomrim are volunteers, please never select a shift length of more than 2 to 3 hours
  • Start time/End time: Choose times that are closest to the actual start and end times of your shmirah. The exception is when using the 2h daytime/2.5h nighttime option. Start on an even-numbered hour between 8AM and 10PM. (If this results in unneeded shifts, block them.) This will create a late-night shift from 12:30 AM to 3 AM, which is easier to fill than 1:30 AM to 4 AM
  • Location: Select the location where the shmirah will take place, with the following exceptions:
    • Select Shmirah at Home if you want your shomrim to serve in their own homes rather than go to a funeral home (such as during a pandemic shutdown)
    • Select Special Arrangements for:
      • Any location not listed in the dropdown menu
      • When your shmirah overlaps with another shmirah, but you can't share all their shomrim. See Sharing Shifts: Working with Another Coordinator
  • Organizer: Your congregation’s primary shmirah coordinator’s contact info will automatically populate. Backup coordinators can delete it type in their own information 
  • Additional Information: Here you can add any special information for your shomrim. For greater visibility, use red boldface. It's wise to add this message to your "Shomrim Needed" email as well

3. Click Save.

4. Check all your entries and correct any errors. If your shmirah overlaps with another shmirah at the same location, you’ll be notified now. If the adjustments don’t meet your needs, see the instructions for Sharing Overlapping Shifts. 

5. Block shifts (optional). If there are any shifts in your time frame that you don’t want to fill, you can block them now. Place your cursor on the first shift you want to block; it should turn blue. To block multiple shifts, click on a shift, hold down the Ctrl (PC) or Command (Mac) key, and click on each additional shift you want to block.

Reasons to block shifts include wishing to suspend shmirah on an intervening Shabbat or Jewish holiday; accommodating loved ones who want to spend time alone with the deceased; or other reasons that may come up from time to time

6. Check all your information, then Save again. You will land on the “Send a Notification” page, from which you can contact your shomrim via email. See Contacting All Your Shomrim by Email

7. Please do not delete your entry after your shmirah ends.   That would remove all its data from the system. Once a shmirah is over, it will disappear from the Take/Cancel a Shift page. The Area Coordinator will do housekeeping in the background from time to time. 

Contacting All Your Shomrim by Email

Each congregation has its own mailing list of all shomrim who partner with it. There’s also a Coordinators mailing list; include them in emails announcing a new shmirah.  

To send an email to all your shomrim and/or fellow coordinators:

1. Click Send a Notification (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu). Then choose one of the following three actions:

  • Edit and re-send an existing email (recommended for sending most "Shomrim Needed" and follow-up messages): From your list of Shmirah Emails, select the one you want to use
  • Create an email from scratch (recommended for getting started as a shmirah coordinator): 
    • Click Create (blue box, top right)
    • Select "Shmirah Email" (default), then click Create (bottom)
    • Select the desired template (new coordinators: select "Universal 'Shomrim Needed' Template")
    • Give your new email a name. This is how it will appear in your Email list.
    • Choose an Email subject (e.g., “Baruch Dayan haEmet,” “Shomrim Needed,” "Congregation X seeks shomrim")
    • In the white box under Edit Email, draft your message, then save it by clicking Apply (floppy disc icon, top right on the black bar)
  • Duplicate an existing email (recommended if you want to keep the original email intact): Select the desired email. In the Actions column, click Duplicate (2-page icon). Note: Due to a bug, you may have to logout and log back in first

2. Starting in the Edit Email section, make any desired changes. After editing your message, click Apply (floppy disc icon, top right of the black bar)

3. When you're finished with each section, click Save and exit or Save and continue

4. Click Send (Summary section). Note: Due to a bug, in order to cancel, you may have to log out and log back in. Then click Send a Notification. Select your outgoing email. If you want to keep the content of the email, copy it. Then click Delete (trash can). To preserve the copied message, create a new email and paste it in

If your email isn’t sent within 15 minutes per 300 recipients, contact the Site Administrator (Shomer's Menu->Coordinator List).

Sending a Text Message to Your Shomrim

Sending a text as well as the required initial email helps you reach many shomrim faster. Texting comes at a small fee, so it’s best to send a single, brief message asking shomrim to check their email and/or go to the website for more information. All subsequent communications should be sent via email only.

1. Click Send a Text (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu).

2. Select your personalized “Shomrim Needed” text template. If you don’t yet have one, see Creating/Editing/Deleting a Text Message Template.

3. If the message within the phone icon suits your current needs, skip to step 4. 

  • To change your template permanently, make the changes directly in this template. Click Save
  • To keep this template intact and create a new one, copy the message from the phone icon. Then click Send a Text, New (top of page), and paste the copied text into the phone icon. Edit as you wish. Save

4. Fill out the form as follows. Most of this is already in place and just needs to be checked.

  • Subject Line: “Shomrim needed for [name of your congregation],” or subject of your choice
  • Category: Death Notification
  • Sender Profile: Shomrim

5. Click Preview/Send, then make the following selections:

  • Parameters section: Select One Time Only. Do not click Send yet! 
  • Select Send Now. Do not click Send yet!  
  • Under “Filter Your Receivers Based on Your”: select Community Management Extension
  • On the next line, select JoomSMS Groups
  • From the pop-up list, choose your own congregation 

6. Now, back in the Parameters section, click Send. A message will tell you how many texts will be sent. Click Send again.

Contacting an Individual Shomer

To contact an individual shomer, click Shomrim List (Shmirah Coordinator’s Menu). In the search box (top left), type all or part of the name of the person you wish to contact, then click the magnifying glass. Click on the name of your shomer to view their full profile. 

To return to the complete list of shomrim, click the X next to the magnifying glass.

Viewing/Contacting a Subset of Shomrim

Send a Notification is an efficient way to reach all Austin Shmirah shomrim who partner with your congregation. Likewise, Shomrim List is handy for learning about and contacting an individual shomer. But there may be times when you want to reach out to a subset of your shomrim; for example:

  • When a much-admired member of your congregation passes away, many fellow congregants may want to take shifts and may even be upset if they don’t get one. You may want to contact your fellow congregants first, then reach out to your entire team later if any shifts are still unfilled
  • If you have just a few shifts left to fill, you may want to send a follow-up email only to the subset of shomrim who serve at those times
  • If you’re organizing shmirah for a person who will be cremated, it’s best to contact only those willing to serve in those circumstances. (See Contacting Shomrim in the Case of a Cremation) 

The sortable shomrim.xlsx spreadsheetdownloadable from Files (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu), is our tool for viewing a selected subset of shomrim. With this spreadsheet, you can first filter all shomrim to view only those who partner with your own congregation, then filter again to view only those who take certain shifts, only members of your own congregation, only those who serve in cases of cremation, etc.

The spreadsheet consists of two pages (marked with tabs at the bottom of each sheet). Please read the "Instructions" page first. The "Shomrim" page contains the usable data. 

If you’re unable to download or open the file, please reach out to Site Administrator Josef Zeevi (Shomer's Menu->Coordinator List).

For using the spreadsheet after you’ve tried following the instructions, you may call, text, or email Larry Smith, who created the spreadsheet, or Area Coordinator Gail Tosto (both found in the Coordinator List, Shomer’s Menu).

Creating a Written Schedule of Your Shmirah

Coordinators as well as shomrim can directly access a chronological, up-to-date list of filled and blocked shifts for their shmirah. However, this file (Excel CSV) does not include unfilled shifts. For the technically challenged, here are instructions for turning this file into a complete, chronological schedule of all the shifts in your shmirah. These instructions work on a PC but have not been tested on other devices. 

  1. Click Take/Cancel a Shift and stay on that page. (Do not click on an individual shmirah.)
  2. Under Download Shifts (bottom), select the shmirah for your deceased, then click Download. Save the file to your desktop as “Shmirah for [name of your deceased].” Be sure to use this saved file for the remaining steps.
  3. Tech tip: If a column is too narrow or contains hashtags, place your cursor over the right margin of its (gray) heading, which may be just a letter. Holding down the mouse key, drag the right margin rightward to expand the entire column.
  4. From top to bottom, check the start and end times of each shift. If there are gaps, that means the intervening shift(s) is/are unfilled. Enter them manually:
    • Place your cursor in any row where you want to insert one or more new rows. Click right, select Insert, then select Entire row. Repeat until you have a row for each unfilled shift
    • In each empty row, enter the date, start time, and end time of the relevant shift. In the Name column, write “open” or “unfilled”

You can now share this complete shmirah schedule with the funeral director, all your shomrim (to fill shifts that are still open), or just those who took shifts. The key columns to share are Start Date, Start Time, End Time, Name, and (for shomrim who have taken shifts) Phone Number. 

Managing a Shmirah After Business Hours

A few extra steps are necessary for shifts after office hours, to ensure the personal safety of the shomrim and the security of the property.  

1. Inform the funeral director/staff that people will be coming in and out overnight. The funeral home's alarm system will have to be deactivated.

2. Most important: Ask the funeral director for the code to the door

3. Email the following information to shomrim serving after business hours and, optionally, to the funeral director. You can find the relevant contacts in the CSV (Excel) sheet downloadable from the Take/Cancel a Shift page.

  • The door code for the funeral home. For security reasons, it’s best to share this only with the shomrim who actually need it
  • Open "Parking at/Entering the Funeral Home After Office Hours" (Shomer’s Menu, Instructions). Copy the entire section of the funeral home you’re using and paste it into your message

Creating/Editing/Deleting an Email Template

You can save yourself an enormous amount of time, tzuris, and typos by creating a reusable template for your “Shomrim Needed” emails.

To Create your "Shomrim Needed" email template:

  1. Click Send a Notification (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu).
  2. At the top of the page, click New. Fill out the form as follows:
    • Newsletter Information panel:  In the Subject box, change the text if you wish (for example, “Shomrim Needed,” “Congregation XXX seeks shomrim,” etc.).  Everything else in this section is optional
    • In the panel beginning with the word "Attachments," select Lists. Select your own congregation's mailing list, plus Coordinators
    • Filters: Do not select a filter. Display "Select a filter type." 
    • HTML Version: The most up-to-date “Shomrim Needed” universal template appears as the default message in the email panel (as well as in template ID 324). Personalize it by replacing the items in square brackets with your own information. As long as all the essential information remains, you may make any other changes you like
  3. Review your template, making sure that:
    • the subject line is as you wish;
    • your own congregation’s shomrim and the coordinators are selected as the recipients in “Lists”;
    • the email message is worded as you wish; and
    • the message bears your signature.
  4. Click Save [top of page].

Your template now appears in the list on the Newsletter page, with its unique ID number and your name in the Sender Information and Creator columns.

To create other email templates for your personal use:

In addition to “Shomrim Needed” emails, you may anticipate sending other messages to your shomrim that don’t change much from one occasion to the next. Or, you may want to create a template containing just your name, affiliation, and contact info for use with all future brief or one-time-only emails.

  • To create a template from scratch, follow the instructions above, but delete the default text you find in the HTML version. Write your own message in its place
  • To create a template similar to an existing one:
    • Follow the instructions for creating your “Shomrim Needed” template, but start by opening the template on which you want to base your own new template
    • Do not make any changes to this template. Copy and paste the text from the email panel into a new template
    • Make your desired changes
    • Click Save (top of page)

To edit or delete your email template: Be absolutely sure you've selected your own template, not the template of another coordinator. Your own templates show your name in the Creator column.   

  • Click Send a Notification (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu)
  • Find the template you wish to edit or delete. Double-check to make sure your own name appears in the Creator column
  • Click the box to the left, then click Edit or Delete (top of page)
  • To Edit, make the desired changes, then click Save (top of page)
  • To delete, click Delete (top of page)

Creating/Editing/Deleting a Text Message Template

More and more people frequently check text messages rather than emails. To reach more shomrim faster, send a “Shomrim Needed” text immediately after you send your initial email. About 65% of Austin Shmirah shomrim opt to be contacted by text message.

To create a template for your “Shomrim Needed” text message:

  1. Click Send a Text (Shmirah Coordinator’s Menu).
  2. Click New, then fill in:
    • Subject: “Shomrim Needed by [name of your congregation]” or subject of your choice
    • Category: Select “Death Notification”
    • Sender Profile: Select “Shomrim”
  3. In the phone icon, paste the following short message. Then personalize the italicized sections.

Do not reply. [Congregation’s initials] seeks shomrim. See my email for instructions or login to http://lastresponder.net/austin. I'm at [your phone number], [your email address]

  • Our text messages are sent from a central number, not your own phone. For this reason, be sure to state “Do not reply" and provide your own phone number in the message.
  • The maximum character count is 160. If your email address is long, be creative with abbreviations.

 

  1. Click Save.

Your new template now appears with its unique ID number (far right column) in the list on the Message page, with yourself as Creator. Only you, the creator, can view and access this template.

To edit a text message:

  1. Click Send a Text (Shmirah Coordinator’s Menu).
  2. Click on the Subject of the desired test message. Make the desired changes.
  3. Click Save.

To delete a text message: 

  1. Click Send a Text (Shmirah Coordinator’s Menu).
  2. Click in the box to the left of the message you wish to delete. 
  3. Click Delete (top of page). 

Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Workarounds for Technical Quirks

See also Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Working with Another Coordinator and Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Etiquette. You may also contact Gail Tosto [Coordinator List – Shomer’s Menu] to help you navigate this potentially complex situation. Gail is not available on Shabbat of Jewish holidays.

The following is background information for the curious. If you just want to cut to the chase, skip down to Workarounds. 

Our Last Responder software is designed to allow a single shomer to serve more than one deceased at the same location. When two deceased are at the same funeral home on the same day(s), a shomer signing up on one of schedule is automatically assigned to the same shift on the other deceased's schedule as well. This prevents needless double booking.  

In order for this to work, the shifts on both schedules must be of the same length and start/end at the same time. So once one shmirah is scheduled, any subsequent shmirah that overlaps it at the same location is automatically adjusted so its shifts match those of the first shmirah. Shmirahs at other locations are not affected.

However, the software has a couple of quirks, and the adjustments go further than we would like.   

  • The start and end times of the entire second shmirah are adjusted as well. For example, if Shmirah A begins at 1 PM on Monday and ends at 10 AM on Wednesday, Shmirah B's online schedule will keep its own date range, but its start time will change to 1 PM and its end time to 10 AM 
  • If the second shmirah begins at the same date and time that the first shmirah ends, it will be treated as "overlapping" even though no shifts are shared. Shmirahs starting after the previous shmirah ends are treated as non-overlapping and no automatic adjustments are made
  • Only the coordinator of the first shmirah can block unneeded shifts. Subsequent coordinators cannot block shifts on their own shmirahs. (Shifts blocked on Shmirah A do not carry over to subsequent shmirahs; all shifts on Shmirah B remain open for signups)

Workarounds 

  • If your schedule is missing shifts that you need to fill: Create a second, supplementary schedule using Special Arrangements as the "Location." Call it “Shmirah for [name of deceased] – Additional Shifts.” You can use any shift length you like on this supplementary schedule.
    • To add shifts to the beginning of your existing schedule: Start the supplementary schedule on the true start date/time, and end it on the date/time when the main schedule begins.
    • To add shifts to the end of your existing schedule: Start the supplementary schedule on the date/time when the main schedule ends, and end it at the true end date/time.
    • To add shifts to both the beginning and end of your existing schedule: Start and end the supplementary schedule at your shmirah’s true dates/times. Then block the shifts that are already covered on your existing schedule , so as to avoid double booking.
  • If your schedule contains shifts that you don’t need to fill:  Do not sign yourself up for these shifts to get them off your schedule. That will take them off the other deceased's schedule as well. Instead, Inform your shomrim that your shmirah does not include shifts from date/time XX:00 to date/time YY:00. Tell them that if they take those shifts, they’ll be serving only the other deceased. 

Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Working with Another Coordinator

See also Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Workarounds for Technical Quirks and Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Etiquette. You may contact Gail Tosto [Coordinator List – Shomer’s Menu] to help you navigate this potentially complex situation. Gail is not available on Shabbat of Jewish holidays.

We are extremely fortunate to have a community-wide network for pooling shomrim to serve all Jewish deceased. When several congregations serve deceased at the same time, all coordinators should cooperate to fill all shifts in ways that work for everyone. The best way to go about it will depend on the situation.

If you notice that another coordinator has a shmirah in progress within the same time frame as your own (as seen on the "Take/Cancel a Shift" page), see if any of their shifts overlap in time with your own shifts. Then determine which of the following situations applies: 

Situation 1: Two (or more) simultaneous shmirahs at different locations: You will be competing for shomrim with the other coordinator 

Situation 2: Two (or more) simultaneous shmirahs at the same location, all shomrim are acceptable for both congregations: You will be sharing all shomrim

Situation 3: Two (or more) simultaneous shmirahs at the same location, congregations cannot share all of each other's shomrim: The coordinator who cannot share all shomrim may create a supplementary shmirah. Both coordinators should notify their shomrim of the situation. (Each congregation’s rules appear on the Home page under “How do congregations participate?”) 

Then take the following steps:

1. Create your shmirah as usual, if you haven't already.

2. Contact the other coordinator(s) and inform them that you have a simultaneous shmirah. Discuss if you're in Situation 1, 2, or 3. Remind them to inform their own shomrim of the situation, starting at point 3 below. 

3. All coordinators should: 

  • Click Send a Notification (Shmirah Coordinator’s Menu)
  • Click Create (blue rectangle, top left), Shmirah Email (the default selection), Create 
  • Select “Universal Template: Overlapping Shifts."
  • If you're in Situation 1, copy Message 1; Situation 2, copy Message 2; Situation 3, copy Message 3. Then paste the appropriate message into your outgoing "Shomrim Needed" email. If you've already sent your "Shomrim Needed" email, send the message to your shomrim in a new email

4. If you're in Situation 1 you're now finished. 

5. Situation 2: See Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Workarounds for Technical Quirks (Coordinator's Menu, Full Instructions)

6. Situation 3: If you can share all shomrim, read "Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Etiquette." If you cannot accept all shomrim, you may recruit a second shomer for overlapping shifts as follows:

  • Create a supplementary shmirah called "Shmirah for [name of deceased -- Overlapping Shifts." Under Locaiton, select Special Arrangements. Include only the overlapping shifts on this shmirah
  • Once both your full schedule and your supplementary schedule are posted, contact your shomrim (see points 1-3 above)
  • Keep track of the signups on all shmirahs: Click Take/Cancel a Shift, then download the schedule for All Events. Overlapping shifts are marked “DUPLICATE"
    • Whenever an "acceptable" shomer takes an overlapping shift on any shmirah schedule, sign yourself up for the same shift on all schedules where it's still open. This will keep other shomrim from double-booking it unnecessarily
    • Whenever a shomer that you cannot accept signs up for an overlapping shift, keep that shift open on your supplementary shmirah and try to fill it
    • When two shomrim take the same shift on different shmirahs, both shomrim should be notified to avoid surprises. Then decisions can be made as to who will serve the shift
      • Preferably, each shomer is contacted by their own coordinator. See Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Etiquette
      • If both shomrim are acceptable to both coordinators and willing to serve both deceased, either of them can be given the option (not the obligation) to not report for the shift. Do not cancel this person’s shift on the website, which would just open it up for another double-booking
      • If only one shomer is acceptable to both coordinators and willing to serve both deceased, the other can be given the option (not the obligation) to not report for the shift. Do not cancel this person’s shift on the website, which would just open it up for another double-booking
    • If only one shomer has signed up for an overlapping shift, that shomer should serve. The "stricter" coordinator should leave that shift left open on the supplementary shmirah

Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Etiquette

See also Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Workarounds for Technical Quirks and  Sharing Overlapping Shifts: Working with Another Coordinator. You may contact Area Coordinator Gail Tosto [Coordinator List – Shomer’s Menu] to help you navigate this potentially complex situation. Please do not call Gail on Shabbat or Jewish holidays.

When several congregations have deceased at the same funeral home at the same time, mutual respect, sensitivity, and diplomacy are essential. This is especially important when the congregations sharing the shifts have different rules as to who may serve. Below are some guidelines on how you can support your fellow coordinator [henceforth, "your partner"] while faithfully serving the needs of your own deceased.                 

  • Once you notice that some of your shifts overlap with another shmirah, reach out to your partner as a courtesy. Determine whether the two of you will be teaming up to share shomrim at the same funeral home or competing to fill shifts at different locations. If you’re sharing, this is the time to discuss whether you can share all shomrim and, if not, how the overlapping shifts should be filled
  • Avoid questions or debates about the reasons behind each congregation’s approach. Austin Shmirah thrives precisely by nonjudgmentally allowing each congregation to maintain full autonomy in ritual matters
  • Please do not ask a shomer whether they’re “qualified” to serve through both congregations. Sharing this information should be at the shomer’s initiative. When in doubt, the coordinator who cannot use all shomrim can try to double-book a second shomer for that shift
  • In communications with your shomrim, model an attitude of respect for the other congregation. A minority of people in our community may voice strident opinions about one congregation or another. As shmirah coordinators, we should redirect this behavior rather than feed into it
  • When possible, avoid direct communication with shomrim who are not on your own mailing list. Ask your partner to convey any messages to them on your behalf
  • If your partner’s congregation has stricter rules than yours about who may serve as a shomer:
    • Please respond graciously and supportively to their additional needs. Like you, they’re doing their best to honor the wishes of their congregation, the deceased they’re caring for, and the grieving family
    • Be aware that your partner may opt to seek a second shomer to fill shifts that have already been filled by your own team. When your partner does manage to double-book a shift this way, you can generally offer your own shomer the option – with no obligation – to be relieved of the shift
    • All of your shomrim may freely fill all shifts on your own shmirah. However, you may want to let your partner take the lead in filling the overlapping shifts. Alternatively, as a courtesy to your partner, you might consider prioritizing phone calls to shomrim who happen to meet their requirements as well as your own. All of this is entirely up to you
  • If your partner’s congregation is more lenient than yours:
    • Please avoid referring to the type of shomrim you need as “really Jewish,”  “100% Jewish,” “had a halachic conversion,” and the like. These terms are open to multiple interpretations and may cause offense as well as confusion. Instead, use terms like “shomrim who meet my congregation’s requirements.” This description is well-defined, 100% objective, and diplomatic
    • Expect to do the bulk of the work to fill the overlapping shifts with shomrim who meet your requirements
    • If a shomer of yours is uncomfortable performing shmirah for your partner’s deceased, either ask them to take a non-overlapping shift or advise your partner to recruit their own shomer for that shift. You might also gently suggest that the shomer consult the rabbi for guidance on doing shmirah for a deceased from another congregation

Contacting Shomrim in the Case of a Cremation

Each Austin Shmirah member congregation sets its own policies on ritual matters, including cremation. However, since cremation is not a traditional Jewish practice, many shomrim choose not to serve deceased who will later be cremated.

Austin Shmirah strives to honor both the privacy of the family (by not announcing cremation plans in the “Shomrim Needed” email without their express permission) and the wishes of the shomrim (by contacting only those who are willing to serve in cases of cremation).

If your congregation allows cremation, please ask your spiritual leader to inform you whenever a family has requested both shmirah and cremation. When cremation is involved, follow the steps below to contact the appropriate shomrim.

Alternative 1: With the permission of the family of the deceased: In your "Shomrim Needed" email, inform the shomrim that a cremation is planned. Each recipient then makes their own decision to serve or not.

Alternative 2: With the permission of the family of the deceased: As people take shifts, search for each shomer in the Shomrim List (Shmirah Coordinator’s Menu). Check column 5, “Would you serve for someone being cremated?” If the answer is no, contact that person and inform them that this is a case of cremation. If they choose not to serve, cancel their shift.

Alternative 3: If you do not have the family’s permission to inform shomrim of the cremation, do the following.

  1. Post your shmirah using Create a Shmirah as usual.
  2. Do not use Send a Notification to contact your shomrim. Instead, copy your own “Shomrim Needed” template and paste it into an email on your personal email account.
  3. Read Viewing/Contacting a Subset of Shomrim (Coordinator’s Menu, Instructions).  
  4. Following the instructions in the shomrim.xlsx spreadsheet that you’ve downloaded:
    • First filter for shomrim who serve through your own congregation: Click on cell F2, then on the arrow in the bottom left corner of cell G2. Expand the column to view all content and select all rows that include your congregation
    • In cell F2, click the filter arrow and deselect “(Blanks)”
    • Next, click on the filter arrow in cell T2 and select only “Yes” (willing to serve in cases of cremation). You now see only shomrim who serve through your congregation and are willing to serve those being cremated
    • Copy the email addresses from column C and paste them into the BCC line of the email you created in step 2
  5. Address the email to yourself. Optionally, you may CC the funeral director, your clergy, and/or other coordinators. Fill in the Subject line as you wish.
  6. Review your message and click Send. 

End FAQ

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Coordinator FAQs


How do phone calls fit into the shift-filling process?

You will most likely need to make some phone calls to fill fast-approaching shifts, overnight shifts, or other hard-to-fill shifts.

Keep phone calls short and set boundaries. You may have to politely remind people that you don’t need a detailed explanation of why they aren’t available; you are not authorized to talk about, nor do you know the details about the death or funeral plans; and you need to keep phone calls short in order to fill all the shifts. 

Please do not pressure anyone to take a shift if they say they’re unavailable.

The most efficient order in which to make phone is to:

  1. Shomrim who partner with your congregation and are on call for the shifts you need (see the FAQ “How can I find out who's on call for a shift I need to fill?”)
  2. Shomrim who serve through your congregation and are generally available at the times you need
  3. Any shomer who serves through your congregation

How can I find out who’s on call for a shift I need to fill?

Shomrim have the option of being “on call” to take a particular shift on a particular day of the week, whenever it arises. This is very helpful in identifying the best people to call first.

Shomrim have been informed that their “on call” shifts are not reserved for them. Any shomer can take any open shift. Rather, their time is reserved for the shift they’ve committed to. That said, please be gracious with shomrim who find themselves unavailable for the shift they’ve committed to. 

To find shomrim who are on call for shifts you need, there are two options: 

 – Use the sortable Shomrim file
  see Viewing/Contacting a Subset of Shomrim (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu, Full Instructions).

 – Search through the Shomrim list as follows:

  1. Click Shomrim List (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu).
  2. Click Control-F. In the search bar, type in the the day of the week of the shift(s) you need to fill. Each instance of that day will be highlighted in the rightmost column.
  3. For each shomer listed as "on call" on that day, cross-check with column 5: “Which of these [congregations] are you willing and able to serve?” If your congregation is listed, click on the person’s name to access their complete profile.
  4. In the shomer's profile, scroll down to the “On Call” section and check the selected day, shift, and frequency. If these match a desired shift, contact that person. Note: Now that coordinators can choose their own shift length for each individual shmirah, shift times in the shomrim's profiles are approximate.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 with the remaining pages of the Shomrim List.

Why are shomrim listed by first name in the Shomrim List?

We made this unusual choice on the assumption that, in our casual community, most coordinators will address most shomrim by first name. When a coordinator is busy making a series of short, urgent, back-to-back phone calls, it’s all too easy to lose track of who’s on the other end of the line at a particular moment. Starting each entry with the shomer's first name makes it easier to focus on it while greeting each individual.

How can I help the shmirah go smoothly for my shomrim?

The more rewarding shmirah is for those who serve, the easier it is to fill shifts and the longer people will want to stay in your shmirah pool. The following are worthwhile time investments to help keep your shomrim happy and responsive. 

  • Remain available by phone/text message throughout the shmirah. Make sure those who took shifts know how to contact you
  • It's traditional not to thank shomrim for their service.* That said, nowhere is it written that you can't offer positive reinforcement with words such as "You're the greatest," "I'm so glad to have you on my team," or "When you took that tough shift, it really helped me out" 
  • It's useful for shomrim to know who's serving immediately before and immediately after them. This is especially important at night, when they may need to let each other into the building or lock the door behind them if no one is coming to relieve them.
    • Remind your shomrim that they have direct access to an up-to-date listing of all filled and blocked shifts in your shmirah. Instructions can be found in the Shomer's Menu, Instructions, Accessing the Shmirah Schedule. 
    • You can also download and send them the schedule of shomrim when you send them the door code. Consider copying the funeral director as well. To go the extra mile for your shomrim, insert rows for the unfilled shifts. See Creating a Written Schedule of Your Shmirah (Shmirah Coordinator's Menu, Full Instructions).  
  • If your shomrim cannot serve in the building (such as during a pandemic), it’s a nice touch to ask the funeral director to send you a photograph of the deceased (before death!), the deceased’s casket, or, if the taharah (ritual washing) has not yet been completed, the door to the cold room. Receiving these photographs can help shomrim feel connected to the deceased even though they're not physically present. However, be aware that the funeral director may or may not have time to comply with this request

* Some explanations for this custom are that (a) caring for the dead is a mitzvah (a commandment) and therefore should be performed without expectation of thanks; (b) many people don't have the emotional wherewithal to perform death-related mitzvahs, and we don't want to give those who do a superiority complex about it; and (c) perhaps most meaningful, these mitzvahs are done not for us but for the deceased, who cannot give thanks. 

End FAQ

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