Immediately following a death, the deceased should not, according to Tradition, be left unattended. A Shomer, or "watchman," stays with the deceased from the time of death until the funeral and burial. It is appropriate for members of the family to stay with the deceased and the custom in many communities is for the family to provide the Shomer. Star of David Memorial has people available to serve as Shomereim and will arrange for this service, if the family wishes.
A mourner in Judiasm is one who is defined as being Kaddish related, which means they are obligated to observe the rites of mourning for the deceased. Those who are considered mourners are the spouse, parent, sibling or child of the deceased. It's important to realize that other family members, although not technically considered mourners, may choose to observe many of the rites of mourning because of the close relationship they had with the deceased. From the time of death until the burial, the mourner is considered an Onen and is relieved of many of the normal obligations incumbent upon an individual. The main obligation of an Onen is to arrange for the proper Jewish burial of the deceased.
Besides your personal Star of David Memorial Chapel funeral director, the first person to be called should be your rabbi or the deceased's rabbi. A time is not set for the funeral until the rabbi has been contacted. The rabbi will do whatever is necessary to change his or her schedule to accommodate the family's wishes, but there are times when that is not possible. Star of David Memorial Chapel will coordinate a time for the service that allows for the family's needs, as well as the time constraints of the rabbi and cemetery.
Depending upon a congregation's policy, a service may be held in the temple or synagogue. Many people today are opting for services at the cemetery only. It is difficult to predict how many people will attend a funeral, but if the deceased is young or leaves a large family, or is active in business or social activities, it is likely that a large number of people will want the opportunity to pay their respects by coming to the funeral. Because we at Star of David Memorial specialize in graveside services, we are prepared for and can accommodate any size service.
Back to Top
The Traditional Jewish Funeral
Respect is always shown to the deceased as well as toward the mourners. This is one of the reasons why Traditional Jewish funerals are held so soon after death. It is more respectful to inter the body within a reasonable amount of time rather than having an unnecessary delay. Of course, waiting for relatives to come from a far distance is a respectful reason to delay the burial. This is a decision the family should make in consultation with their rabbi.
Viewing the deceased is not a Jewish custom, and Tradition teaches us that it is disrespectful to look at a person who can not look back. Therefore, a Traditional funeral would be one in which the casket is kept closed and there is no viewing, except for purposes of identification by the family, if they so desire. Unless local laws require, embalming, a chemical process of sanitation and temporary preservation, should be avoided. Your funeral director will advise you if any laws apply that would make embalming necessary.
If the family wishes, Star of David Memorial will contact the Chevra Kadisha. The Chevra Kadisha, the sacred society, is a group of pious men and women who have taken on the obligation of ritually preparing the deceased. They perform the Taharah, which means purification. These people ritually bathe the deceased and then dress the person in Tachrichim, shrouds, the Traditional burial garments. (Male members of the Chevra Kadisha prepare a male deceased and female members of the Chevra Kadisha prepare a female deceased.) Usually made of white, pure linen, the Tachrichim symbolize that we are all equal in death. The simple white garment without pockets is physical proof that we take nothing with us when we leave this world, and that God judges us on our merits and deeds, not the material wealth we may have accumulated.
Tradition calls for a simple wooden casket, made without metal parts. Star of David Memorial has Traditional caskets ranging from an unfinished pine to a solid plank walnut. Again, this is something the family will decide upon privately, and any casket they select will be the appropriate and correct one.
Most Traditional funerals do not have flowers as this is considered an unnecessary and frivolous adornment. Many Reform and Conservative Jews choose to have some flowers present for the service, and as long as the rabbi has no objections, it is permissible. Most rabbis do not object to the family's wish to have a small floral tribute on the casket, but don't want Jewish funerals to resemble the funeral customs of non-Jews in having the casket surrounded by flowers.
Funerals usually last about twenty minutes and consist of the recitation of Psalms, Scripture readings and a eulogy. Prior to or after the services, the mourners perform the ritual of K'riah, the rending of the garment. This ancient custom is symbolic of the tear that's in the mourner's heart. Traditionally the clothing is torn, but many people today use a black ribbon that is attached to the outside of the clothing. When people see the ribbon, or the tear in the clothing, it is a sign that that person is a mourner.
The ribbon is worn, or the clothing cut, on the left side of the person if they are mourning the death of a parent. For all other Kaddish relatives, the ribbon or clothing is cut on the person's right side. This is to acknowledge that the relationship with a parent is different, and, therefore we observe the difference by performing the K'riah, on the side closest to the heart. When we see a person wearing the ribbon or torn clothes, we should offer our condolences to the mourner, even if we don't know the mourner or whom they are mourning. Mourners are already uncomfortable and when we see them, if we avoid talking to them or ignore the fact that they are mourners, it adds to their feelings of loneliness and isolation.
A special prayer is said when the clothing or ribbon is cut. ...'Dayan Ha'emet,' ..."Blessed is the Judge of Truth." This is said because as mortals, we can not understand God's decrees and judgements. Rather, all we can do is accept those judgements, and to acknowledge that God is in control of all life. The ribbon, or torn clothing is worn Traditionally for seven days, except on Shabbat. When mourning the death of a parent, the ribbon or torn clothing is traditionally worn for thirty days.
As with Shiva, some festivals and holidays affect the observance and practice of the K'riah, and it is suggested you speak with your rabbi for the interpretations as they affect an individual set of circumstances.
Back to Top
We accompany the deceased to their final resting place. The Tradition is that the Kaddish prayer is not recited until after the casket has been lowered, and the grave filled. Dating back to Biblical times the preference for Jewish people has been earth burial, and that custom remains strong today. In some parts of the country, above ground mausoleum entombments are popular; when a family chooses to have entombment, they should check with their rabbi, as some are reluctant to officiate at a mausoleum.
The Chesed Shel Emet, the ultimate act of love and kindness, is shown to the deceased when the mourners and friends participate in the actual burial. Many people symbolically participate by placing a few shovels of earth onto the casket or vault. Because this is something the deceased can not do for himself; because the deceased can not ask the mourners to do it for her; and since the deceased can not repay--or even simply thank--the mourners for seeing to his or her proper Jewish burial, this becomes the ultimate, unselfish act of love and kindness. Although extremely difficult and emotionally painful, the actual burial of our dead has been proven to be more beneficial, psychologically, than if the casket were left on top of the grave and the mourners walked away. Participating and witnessing in the burial gives closure to the relationship and affords the mourners an opportunity to do something physical for their loved one for a final time. It also helps to minimize any illusions that the death might not have been real.
After the burial, upon leaving the grave, it is Traditional for those in attendance who are not mourners to form a Shura, a double line facing each other, forming a pathway through which the mourners pass to receive words of comfort. Since Tradition teaches us that we don't offer words of consolation to mourners until after the burial, this provides the first opportunity to express the Traditional words of comfort, "May you be comforted among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Any kind words of sympathy may be said to the mourners as they pass through the double line. There is an expression in Hebrew that translates, "Words from the heart go directly to the heart" and any kind expression that is honest and meaningful is, more than likely, appropriate at this time.
Back to Top
Following the Burial
There are many customs and traditions, many based on superstition, that surround the returning from the cemetery. Because many of these are just that, customs, it is best to discuss these with your rabbi. Some of the customs many Jewish people observe are covering the mirrors in the house of mourning, having a pitcher of water outside the house for mourners to wash their hands, using a different route home from the cemetery, and a whole host of other customs. Your rabbi will be best able to guide you in which of these customs (and the reasons behind them) will be meaningful for you and your family.
One of the oldest, most important, and meaningful traditions the Jewish people have is that upon returning to the house of mourning following the burial, the community provides the first meal. Eggs or bagels are traditionally served to symbolize the continuity of life. This meal of condolence, called the Seudat Hawra'ah was begun in recognition that if left to the mourners' own wills, they may not eat and would then become ill. Today we know that when we are grieving our resistance is lower and we are more susceptible to sickness. Another reason for the community to provide the first meal is to set the tone for the period of Shiva. The mourners are not to be "hosting" a party, nor are they to be concerned with taking care of other people's needs. Rather, the community is there to take care of the mourners.
Back to Top
Shiva, The First Period of Mourning
Shiva means seven and is the period of mourning immediately following the burial. Tradition is that the day of burial counts as the first day of Shiva, which continues for seven days. Although no public mourning is observed on Shabbat, the Sabbath and Holidays count in the seven days. Many festivals affect the observance of Shiva and your rabbi will be best qualified to explain how they affect a particular situation. For example, some festivals cancel the observance of Shiva completely, and some festivals postpone the beginning of Shiva. Under special circumstances, the observance of Shiva is for fewer than the Traditional seven days, and again, your rabbi will be in a position to advise you in your particular situation.
During Shiva, mourners remain at home and the Jewish community comes and offers comfort to them. The only time a mourner is supposed to leave the home is on Shabbat to attend services in the Synagogue. During the Shiva period the community comes into the mourner's home and it is there that the three daily (morning, afternoon and evening) services are held. The Kaddish prayer is recited during these services and it is interesting to note how much comfort is derived from the recitation of the Kaddish prayer.
The atmosphere in the house of mourning should be one of dignity, and one should avoid creating a party atmosphere during Shiva. Talk should be centered around the deceased as it certainly is permissible to talk about the deceased. Shiva should be a time to remember with fondness many of the events of which the deceased was a part. Often we think that talking about the deceased and remembering events and happenings will be upsetting to the mourners. Out of our discomfort we avoid talking about the memories we have of the deceased. In fact, the contrary is true. Mourners find comfort in hearing stories about their loved one and although they may "seem" overwhelmed and upset, they would much prefer people talking about their loved one rather than thinking that people have forgotten the person.
It is understandable that we are nervous and uncomfortable when we are in the presence of mourners, or others who are in any emotional pain for that matter. We need to learn how to become more at ease when tragedy strikes those around us. Part of our uneasiness comes from not knowing what to say to a person in grief. More often than not, it's not anything we might say that brings solace to our grieving friends, it is simply our presence that lets them know we care and are concerned for their welfare.
Back to Top
Shloshim, The Second Period of Mourning
Shloshim, which means thirty in Hebrew, is the thirty days following the burial, with the day of the burial counting as the first day. Usually then, Shiva is the first seven days of Shloshim. As with Shiva, some festivals affect the Shloshim period, and your rabbi will advise you how a festival impacts on a particular situation.
At the conclusion of Shiva, Shloshim serves as a period of re-entry into the world of the living for the mourner. This is the time when the mourner returns to work or school and begins to start living without their loved one. During Shloshim, the mourner Traditionally avoids music, gaiety and other forms of celebrations. Your rabbi will help you with specific questions that may arise, such as what happens if a previously scheduled wedding or Bar/Bat Mitzvah occurs during the Shloshim period.
Back to Top
The annual anniversary of the death of a person is called the Yahrzeit and is traditionally observed based on the Hebrew calendar. Star of David Memorial sends a reminder in the mail a few weeks before the Yahrzeit. The yahrzeit is observed by lighting a twenty-four hour candle the evening before the day of the yahrzeit, and most people recite the Kaddish and take a few moments of introspection and thought. Most congregations recite the name of the deceased whose yahrzeit is being observed during the Shabbat services closest to the date.
Back to Top
Unveiling/Dedication of the Marker
Although there is nothing in Traditional Judaism that requires an unveiling or dedication service, most families choose to have some sort of ceremony when the grave marker or headstone is put in place. We are required by Tradition to mark the grave of a deceased, and the most common time for this to take place is close to the first yahrzeit. But, Traditionally, any time after Shloshim, the marker or monument can be set in place. There are some authorities that allow the installation of the marker or monument to take place at the conclusion of Shiva.
A Matzava, or headstone, can be as elaborate or as simple as the family wishes, so long as it conforms to the rules and regulations of the cemetery. Most often the person's Hebrew name is inscribed along with the dates of birth and death. Your rabbi will be helpful in having the deceased's Hebrew name correctly inscribed in the monument, as well as helping you prepare an unveiling ceremony if you choose not to have a rabbi officiate. Star of David Memorial can help you select an appropriate memorial for the grave.
Back to Top
Visiting the Grave
Judaism teaches that mourners should not show excessive grief and should avoid deifying the deceased. To this end, cemetery visitation should not be too frequent. Some authorities have said that the first time a mourner can return to the grave is after Shloshim, while others say a mourner may visit the grave at the conclusion of Shiva.
It is Traditional that when one attends a burial, visiting the graves of others who are buried there is not done. Not visiting other graves is out of respect to the person who is being buried, as well as to the person previously interred. Exceptions to this rule would be if the people have come from a far distance or if to make another trip cause undue hardship.
Back to Top
Selection of a Cemetery
Many times a family is faced with a sudden or an unanticipated death and they do not have cemetery property. Star of David Memorial can help you make the necessary arrangements for purchasing a grave. The selection of a cemetery is one that should not be made in haste. There are many factors to be considered before a final choice of a cemetery is made.
Back to Top
There are benefits that may be available to a family at the time of death and these are subject to change. We can advise you about the current benefits and whether you or your family qualify, and we will assist in filing for and obtaining any benefits to which you may be entitled.
Qualifications to receive the Social Security Lump Sum Death Benefit were changed in 1981. In order for Social Security to pay the Lump Sum Death benefit, three qualifications must be met. First, the deceased must have paid into Social Security for the minimum number of quarters. This is regardless of whether or not the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits during his or her life. Second, there must be either a surviving spouse or dependent child to make the claim. And, finally, the surviving spouse, dependent child, or their representative must file an application with the Social Security Administration. The Lump Sum Death Benefit is not an automatic benefit; it must be applied for. The Lump Sum Death Benefit is in addition to any other Social Security benefits to which the surviving spouse or dependent child may be entitled. This benefit no longer can be assigned to the funeral home as payment towards the outstanding funeral bill.
Veteran's benefits are slightly more complicated, but again, we will help you understand each of the benefits as they may apply to your situation. Where and under what circumstances the death occurs will determine the amount of the benefit payable by the Veterans Administration.
To qualify, the deceased veteran must have an honorable discharge and had to have served during certain periods as determined by the Veterans Administration. These benefits are paid as a reimbursement to the person who paid the funeral bill. Once again, we will help you file for these benefits.
Qualified deceased veterans, or their spouse or eligible children, can be buried in a cemetery maintained by the V.A. In the event the family chooses not to have burial in a National Cemetery, there may be a small reimbursement available toward the cemetery expenses. A flag is provided by the government that can be placed on the casket of an eligible veteran. The family can choose to have the flag draped on the casket or folded and then placed on the casket. The third benefit available to an eligible deceased veteran is a government grave marker or monument. There are a number of markers available and depending upon the cemetery requirements; at least one of the monuments available will be acceptable.
Some people have life insurance or other benefits through their employment or union that are payable upon death. We will assist you in contacting the issuing company and can advise you as to how to go about applying for any benefits that may be available. A note of caution, however: even though a family has an insurance policy, it doesn't mean that the policy is still in force at the time of death. Sometimes the policy was allowed to lapse, the policy was cashed in, or if there were a provision for borrowing against it, the owner of the policy may have used that option. In any event, the insurance company will advise you at the time of application as to the status of the policy.
Back to Top
Preparing for the Future
It is not at all unusual for people to plan for their financial future, and there are many forms that this planning takes. Life insurance, wills, trusts and estates are just some of the many vehicles people use to protect their assets. An important part of planning for the future should include the discussion of what you and your family's wishes are for a funeral. This is generally not a conversation most people choose to have, but it is an important one that each of us at some time should have. By simply filling out the pages at the end of this booklet and making sure your family knows where to get this information at the time of need will certainly relieve the family of having to make some difficult decisions at a time when they may be emotionally unprepared to make those choices. Star of David Memorial offers methods of pre-funding a funeral through a trust fund. Each state has different rules and regulations that govern how these trusts and policies can be established. Your funeral director will explain how this will affect your situation.
By pre-arranging a funeral through Star of David Memorial, you can be assured that your wishes will be carried out as you specifically expressed. In addition, we are able to guarantee that the price you pay now will provide the services you select, no matter when they need to be provided. We have flexible payment programs and any of our qualified funeral directors can explain in detail how this plan can fit into your financial planning.
In today's ever-changing economic environment, there are times when asset management becomes critically important. Many people need to use the services of nursing homes and sometimes need to apply for various forms of public assistance. In each of these instances, a pre-paid, guaranteed funeral trust Star of David Memorial can be used to meet the financial restrictions that some of these benefits impose.
Back to Top