Death can be a teacher about the fragility of life and its beauty, about the deep importance of loved ones and of treasured values, about the ways in which life gives us extraordinary gifts … death is a teacher about God’s presence in the world, about human goodness and compassion and love. Death is a teacher about courage and hope and faith, about believing in that which we cannot see, about moving through the valley of the shadow, until light is visible again.”Rabbi Amy Eilberg
When death is near, it is not just the dying person who may need support. Families and friends need care, guidance and perhaps most importantly, a comforting listener. Many don’t even know where to turn.Through Jewish traditions, I offer guidance throughout the entire process: from counseling the dying person and relatives as death approaches, to bereavement counseling afterwards. I can officiate funerals, memorial services, shiva and unveiling services. I will combine my counseling experience, rabbinic training and understanding of the Jewish views on death, the soul and the afterlife in a way that brings comfort and hope to all parties involved.
Grieving is deeply personal, and different for everyone. How you deal with that grief depends on your background, beliefs, relationship to the person who is now gone and other factors such as your health in each of what the mystics call the four worlds: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. We will meet to learn about your loved one, and share the teachings behind the Jewish traditional/ritual elements that occur at a funeral and we will create an intimate ceremony, so the family feels comforted throughout the service and burial.
Death, Funerals and Memorial Services
The loss of a loved one can be one of life’s most stressful events. Having the right person by your side to walk you through this difficult time and help you make what may be difficult decisions, is of utmost importance both for providing proper honor to the deceased and for the understanding of the emotions of the survivors.
The Jewish word used for funeral is levaya. It means accompany. It reflects the Jewish tradition of honoring the deceased, and of treating the body of a dead person with great care and the utmost respect. In traditional Jewish ritual, the body is washed and cleansed (the process is known as taharah). Taharah is done by the Chevrah Kadisha, the Jewish burial society. Different Chevrahs follow different traditions. I will help you understand and work with these traditions. After taharah, the body is traditionally placed in a plain wooden casket. Some more environmentally concerned people have used other more biodegradable caskets, or have even chosen burial in a shroud without a casket. In Israel, burial is done without a casket.
Jewish tradition requires speedy burial, traditionally within 24 hours, but usually within a few days. The funeral service itself is brief, and only requires a few prayers. Sometimes there is a service in a funeral home or chapel, followed by a burial service. Sometimes the whole service is done graveside. A eulogy is usually included. The decision on who (and how many) will speak and provide remembrances is an important one. This is one of the details that will be discussed in preparation for the funeral.
There are many people who choose not to follow all the traditions of burial and the mourning periods (outlined below). Some struggle with burial verses cremation. There are times where the desires of the deceased, and various members of the family are inconsistent. There are unfortunately times where members of the family had a strained relationship with the deceased. We will discuss the traditions, the meanings and purposes behind the traditions, and together figure out the best ways to meet the desires of the deceased, the needs of the members of your family, and to provide uplifting memories and soothing conversations.
Jewish tradition provides a roadmap for those going through the process of grieving a loss. I believe these traditions aid in the healing process, and also aid the transition of the deceased on the next journey. What ever your belief is, we will discuss the purposes of the mourning periods, and how you can best work with them to match how you need to grieve and heal.
Upon hearing of a death, we recite the blessing, Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Haolam, Dayan Haemet , Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, the true judge. We say this as a sign of our acceptance that the circle of life always ends in death. During the time before the funeral, close relatives are excused from all responsibilities not related to preparation for the funeral. Offering words of condolence to mourners during this period is actually considered futile.
Following the funeral, friends and other relatives are encouraged to offer their sympathy and to comfort mourners in the seven day period of shiva. During this first of the mourning periods, mourners remain at home and members of the community care for them and provide for their needs (for an excellent guide for visiting a shiva house from Temple Sinai, in Cranston, RI, click here).
Mourners then enter the period of sheloshim, the thirty days following death, during which mourners traditionally do not engage in certain entertaining or festive activities. The third mourning period is the eleven months following death. Close relatives recite the Mourner’s Kaddish in memory of their loved one during this period. Each year thereafter, on the anniversary of death (yahrzeit), mourners again recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, spending a few sacred moments remembering and honoring a loved one’s legacy.
Jewish tradition acknowledges that we never stop mourning the loss of a loved one. It therefore provides us with specific mourning ceremonies, Yizkor services, that occur throughout the year, every year. They take place on Yom Kippur and the last days of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot. At these services we remember our loved ones, and embrace those memories which will live on through us.