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Funeral Planning / Shiva / Bereavement

Funeral Planning / Shiva / Bereavement

Many people do not want to confront death until it strikes, but then they or their loved ones must deal with grief, disorganization, and decisions, all at once. We believe it is better to be prepared and organized.  It is very important to have this information stored in a convenient location that is known to the family.

We have, therefore, tried to be practical, to offer specific direction, rather than a variety of choices, while offering a significant Reform Jewish approach.  We have included an explanation of our arrangements to provide an alternative funeral at a con­siderably reduced cost for our members and their immediate families.  Also included in this guide are instructions in the case of terminal illness of a loved one, a list of significant documents and information including where to find them, and a form to complete and return to the Temple.

THE CRT FUNERAL SERVICE PLAN 

The plan described below has been developed to help members of our congregation and their immediate families when there is a death in the family. Specifically, it pro­vides that a phone call to the Temple, or a committee member, will be sufficient to take care of all funeral arrangements, relieving mourners of the necessity of visit­ing the funeral home, choosing a coffin, and the like. The plan also can significantly lower the cost.

If this plan is chosen, our Rabbi or a congregation member will make all arrangements when contacted. The plan, approved by the Board of Trustees, is as follows:

1)   The funeral service will be held in our sanctuary at the Temple and our Rabbi will preside.

2)   Sherman’s Memorial Chapel will provide basic services in accordance with our contract with them. This includes transportation and preparation of the de­ceased, coffin and pallbearers.

3)   The coffin will be a simple one, as chosen and contracted for by the Temple in accordance with Jewish tradition.

4)   The family will not need to visit the funeral home to choose a casket or deliver clothing.

5)   As of this printing, the entire funeral cost will be approximately two-thirds that of the average funeral, plus cemetery expenses and gratuities.

6)   In the event of death, simply call one of the following:

The Temple (Pat Kunis)                                                       (516) 333-1839

Rabbi Judith Cohen-Rosenberg                                          (516) 333-5092

Temple President (Mark Natelson)                                   (516) 483-7782

Funeral Committee Chairperson (Bob Markman)             (516) 997-3761

 

7)   If none of the above can be reached (or if between midnight and 7:00AM), you may call Sherman’s Memorial Chapel at (718) 377-7300. You will need to provide the location of the deceased and other necessary information about the decedent.  Be sure to inform the Chapel representative that you are a member of Community Reform Temple, and that information about the arrangements will be made in the morning through the congregation. You may call the Rabbi after 7:00AM who will assist you in making the arrangements.

8)   To make sure necessary information is easily available, fill out the forms in the back of this booklet. Keep one copy and send one to the Temple Office now so that our Rabbi will have a record of your information.

The committee will be glad to answer any questions at any time. Simply write, call or email the Temple Office (office@shalomcrt.org) or any member of the committee (crtritual@optonline.net.)

DESCRIPTIONS OF REFORM PRACTICE 

Dying

It is a religious obligation not to leave a person who is on the threshold of death all alone. We should do all in our power to ease the last moments and to offer our com­fort and strength. Tradition suggests that the Shema be recited by the dying person, or by those present. Following the death, those in attendance are encouraged to say, “God has given and God has taken away, blessed be God’s name. Blessed are you, Eternal our God, Ruler of the Universe, Judge of Truth.”

Release of Body

A death certificate is necessary before burial. If death results from an accident, the police must be notified and the county medical examiner or coroner informed. Assuming there is no suspicion of foul play, the hospital, or the police will release the body to a licensed funeral director.

Organ Donation

Reform practice permits and, in fact, encourages organ donation for purposes of transplants as saving a life is a mitzvah.

Autopsies

Autopsies are permitted in cases where the post-mortem examination may help in discovering the cause of death to protect the health of the survivors, or where it might be a means of discovering the cause and cure of disease, thereby saving and prolonging the lives of others. The decision must be the prerogative of the closest of kin, according to their feelings about the usefulness of it, or in keeping with their emotional tolerance.

Funeral Arrangements

Jewish law requires burial without delay. Therefore, funeral arrangements – but not the funeral itself – can be made on Shabbat, the Festivals, and even on Rosh Hashanah. Arrangements for the funeral may not be made on Yom Kippur. The time for the funeral should be set only after consultation with the Rabbi. Since Jewish tradi­tion affirms the sanctity of life by preserving human dignity, even in death, simplicity should govern all phases of the service.

Preparation of the Body

In Reform practice, the body need not be buried in the traditional white shroud, but in whatever clothes the family wishes, usually selected from the deceased’s regular wardrobe. The family should be guided by simplicity and good judgment. Men and women may be buried with their Tallit and a Yarmuike if the family so desires.

Embalming

Embalming is contrary to Jewish law and not required by civil law. In most states, the body does not have to be embalmed if it is buried within forty-eight hours after death. Embalming should not be done unless circumstances necessitate it, such as transporting the body interstate or overseas.

Casket

Elaborate and costly coffins are unnecessary to Jewish tradition and out-of-place. Some funeral home representatives may urge using an expensive coffin. If the family is insistent, how­ever, the simple pine coffin will be procured. There is no need for silk linings, pil­lows, mattresses, bronze handles or nameplates.  Sherman’s Flatbush has a selection of these simple coffins.  The selection may be made over the telephone.

Cremation

Although Reform practice allows cremation, it is not traditional and some Jewish cemeteries will refuse to allow the urn of ashes to be buried. Most Reform Rabbis will officiate at such a funeral. The service may be conducted in the synagogue or funeral chapel. Members of CRT and their families may have the funeral service in the Temple sanctuary.  The ashes may be buried anywhere, or the urn may remain in a per­manent niche at the crematory.

Grave Liners and Vaults

The use of grave liners and vault is prohibited. They are also expensive. Almost no Jewish cemetery will use them.

Cemetery and Mausoleums

All burials should be in a Jewish cemetery — though it may be in a non-sectarian cemetery not markedly of another faith. A non-Jew, when related to a Jew, may be buried in some  Jewish cemeteries. The services and officiant at such a burial should be Jewish, and no symbol of another faith should be placed on the grave. Only if no Jewish cemetery is available, or if strong familial reason is present, should a non- sectarian cemetery be used. At the graveside, the burial service is concluded and the mourners then return home. Current Jewish law permits mausoleums only if the casket is buried in the earth and the mausoleum is built around the burial plot. Reform Judaism does sanction burial above ground in a mausoleum when it cannot be discouraged.

Burial Plots

Burial plots at Mt Hebron Cemetery in Queens are available for purchase by Temple members.  Please call Bob Markman at (516) 997-3761.

Viewing the Remains

The coffin is kept closed before, during, and after the funeral service. However, members of the deceased’s immediate family may have a private, last look at their loved one before the funeral service. For the funeral, the coffin must be completely and firmly closed. Ordinarily, only close family members may visit the bereaved before the funeral.

Delaying the Funeral

Jewish law requires burial within twenty-four hours of death, whenever possible. The principal grief occurs while the body is still unburied. Reform practice generally follows this tradition, but it can be more lenient, holding that the funeral should not take place more than three days after death.

Funerals are not permitted on Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and on the first and the last days of the Festivals {Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot). 

Infant Burial

A dead infant or still-born is usually handled by a funeral director in a special manner. If the infant did not reach its thirtieth day of life, Jewish law holds that there should be no formal funeral service. The Rabbi may conduct a brief graveside prayer service. According to tradition, a boy infant should be circumcised. No tombstone is needed. The body is usually buried in the family plot at a corner where it will not interfere with a regular burial. A small stone or marker may be placed. This may entail the use of an entire grave.

Funeral Services

The funeral service may be held at Community Reform Temple in the sanctuary for congre­gants and their immediate families. Arrangements for such Services are made through the Rabbi or members of the Funeral Committee. Services of fraternal orders are discouraged. They may take place separately from the Jewish service.

Fasting

Reform practice does not require the immediate family to fast.

Flowers

Flowers are not generally used at Jewish funerals. Instead, the practice of making a contribution to a charity, medical research foundation, synagogues or hospital is encouraged. If flowers are sent, they can be kept at home or placed at the gravesite after the funeral service.

Eulogies

Although any informed Jew may conduct a Jewish funeral, a Rabbi or Cantor who knows the family is usually asked to conduct the service. Judaism does not allow either excessive praise or speaking ill of the dead. If the officiating Rabbi or Cantor did not know the deceased well, the family may write its own remembrance to be read by a member of the family or the Rabbi. At times, a friend or family member may request the privilege of delivering a eulogy, but both the family and the officiating clergy should be consulted.

Music

Background music is not permitted.

Pallbearers

As the bearing of the coffin is considered a great mitzvah, the honor should go to the family members and close friends. If there are gentile friends who were close to the deceased, they may be given this solemn privilege.

Funeral Attire

Somber attire is recommended for the family of the deceased, but Reform practice does not require the use of special mourning garments.

Keriah

The rite of Keriah (the tearing of garments) is customary in Reform practice. Con­servative and Reform Judaism accept the rending of a black ribbon as a practical alternative to the destruction of a useful garment. Also, if one feels that rending of a ribbon is unsatisfactory, the rending of a tie can be performed.

According to tradition, the seven relatives who are required to perform the rite of Keriah are a daughter, a son, a sister, a brother, a father, a mother, and a spouse. While children under age thirteen may not perform this rite, other relatives may make the tear for them so as to unite them with the rest of the family, in a time of tears and tragedy. 

Children

Through death we learn about life, and through learning we grow. To deprive children of participating in the mourning experience is not to protect them. It prevents them from growing.

When and What to Tell Children about Death

It is often possible to initiate discussion before the death of someone who is impor­tant to children. They need reassurance that there are people around them who love them and will not abandon them. When we do not understand why someone has to die, it is helpful to the children to hear that there are things that we do not under­stand.

At What Age Children Should Attend a Funeral

Attending a funeral service and burial helps children who have lost a significant person in different ways. By permitting children to attend, we allow them to participate in ritual and prayer, and to be comforted by them.  It is important that children begin to understand that death is a part of life.  At any age, children vary in maturity and ability to comprehend. The discretion of the parent is always the ultimate deciding factor. As guidelines, we suggest that most children of age five and above who have lost a parent or sibling will benefit from attending the funeral and burial; most children of age eight and above will benefit from attending the funeral and burial of any significant person in their lives. If chil­dren do not wish to go to a funeral, they should not be forced to go.  A brief and honest description prior

to the funeral of the events to take place is essential. The first exposure of children to a cemetery need not be at the time of a funeral; they should accompany the family to the cemetery for memorial visits during the year.

The Return Home

No attempt should be made to comfort the bereaved until after the actual burial has taken place. It is an act of kindness toward the deceased to escort the departed one to the cemetery and to be in attendance at the funeral. Jewish tradition requires that friends or relatives prepare the meal for the mourners returning from the cemetery. This is known as the Se’udat havra’ah — the meal of condolence. Simplicity should mark the meal that is served to the mourners after the funeral, and a reverent deco­rum should prevail in the home. This is not the occasion for a frivolous family re­union. This meal is a means of assuring the bereaved that life must go on, and that their health and convenience are important to us. Additional food for the mourning family may be brought during the condolence calls.

Condolence Calls

Condolence is best offered at the mourner’s home during the mourning period (Shiva) after the funeral. No condolence calls are to be made on the Sabbath. Visits to the bereaved family also should be made after the Shiva period. Often visitors are at a loss as to what to say or do when making a condolence call. The pre­sentation of gifts other than food is in poor taste, except a gift to charity in the name of the deceased.

The purpose of your condolence call is to show respect for the deceased and concern for the mourners. By an unobtrusive entrance and quietly sitting down, you will have made your presence known to the mourners. Let them know that you wish to share in their grief. Do not be afraid to talk about the deceased and do not try to divert the bereaved by making inconsequential conversation. Communicate with the mourn­ers by letting them talk about the deceased, their loss, and their sorrow.

It is not healthy to repress grief; therefore, let the bereaved talk of their sorrow and be prepared to listen. Offer them comfort and reassurance, but do not argue. If the bereaved do not wish to talk at some time during your visit, respect their wishes and remain silent. By sitting with them at that moment in silent vigil, you are also com­municating with them by your presence.

Shiva

Shiva means “seven.” Seven days of intensive mourning follow burial. In an emergen­cy, a doctor or nurse may attend to the sick even on the first day, but it is suggested that the salary or fee for this service be contributed to a charity, to show that the work was not done for gain. One may work after three days if not working would result in a financial loss to the family of the deceased. The customs of sitting on low stools, covering mirrors, not wearing shoes, or not shaving or washing during Shiva, have generally been discontinued in Reform practice.

If the burial takes place within a holiday period, the Shiva begins after the festival. The Holy Days which interrupt and abrogate Shiva are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot. One should consult the Rabbi for clarification if the need arises.

Services at Home during Shiva

It is customary and appropriate to have services in the home on weekdays in the early evening after dinner time, led by the Rabbi or any informed layper­son. It is not mandatory in Reform practice to have a minyan of ten men in order to conduct this service. In Reform Judaism, women constitute a basis for a minyan as well as men. The home service is not held on Shabbat, the Festivals, or High Holy Days, but the family should attend the synagogue on these days to recite the Kaddish. Arrangements for services at home may be made with the Rabbi.

Shëloshim (Thirty Days)

The mourners should avoid involvement in social obligations for thirty days, including the Shiva period. However, meetings concerned with civic, religious, or welfare acti­vities may be attended. One may proceed with existing wedding plans.

The First Year

The Reform practice is to observe mourning for a year following the funeral to pro­vide sufficient time for the wounds of grief to be healed. It is not permitted to continue with outward displays of mourning beyond this eleven-month period.

For Whom to Mourn

Reform practice recognizes that one may mourn for anyone held dear or in great esteem. It is a religious duty to mourn for parents, children, siblings, a spouse, foster parents, adopted children, step-parents, and step-children. The tradition of mourning is not necessarily observed for an infant less than thirty days old.

Kaddish

The Kaddish prayer is traditionally said at services for a full year. In Reform practice, Kaddish can be said at all Shabbat, Holy Days, and Festival services for either four weeks or eleven months, at the discretion of the family.

Cemetery Visits

Traditionally, no visits to the cemetery are permitted for the first month following burial. One can visit at all other times, except on Sabbaths, Festivals, and High Holy Days. It is a tradition to visit the graves of parents and other close relatives in the month before Rosh Hashanah.

Disinterment

Reform practice permits transferal of a body from one grave to another but not without serious cause.

Memorial Tablet (Monument)

It is essential for a monument, in Hebrew matzevah, to be placed on a Jewish gravesite within the first year after the death of a loved one. This act is considered to be so essential that even if the deceased specifically requested no monument, these wishes are to be ignored. This in no way suggests the need for an ostentatious matzevah.

It is most important that the Hebrew wording be legible and accurate. The erection of the matzevah takes place at any time after the first month of mourn­ing and before the anniversary of the death or yahrzeit.

Dedication Ceremony (Unveiling)

It is customary to have our Rabbi officiate at the dedication of a monu­ment. This is usually done close to the first anniversary of death. However, any knowledgeable person may conduct this service.

The “unveiling” of the stone usually means removal of a cloth or handkerchief from the stone by a relative. However, the dedication ceremony requires only the following; the family gathers at the gravesite by mutual agreement as to date and time, with the clergy or layperson who will conduct the ceremony, and the appropriate prayers are offered.  The family then returns immediately to the home.  The Rabbi will supply the liturgy for those who wish to conduct the service themselves.

Arrangements for the Unveiling

The mitzvah of placing a monument would be most meaningful if the following procedures were adopted: (1) Select a monument from a company of your choice. Make certain that your choice is in accordance with any cemetery regulations which may exist. (2) Arrange for the foundation to be started before or after frost. (3) Make certain that the monument is in place before setting the date for the unveiling. (Occasionally, the family arrives at the cemetery for an unveiling only to discover that the monument has not been delivered.) (4) Set a date for the unveiling, informing only the family and the closest friends. If it becomes too difficult to choose among friends, inform only members of the family.

Please note that no arrangements with the cemetery are necessary, with the exception of being certain that the stone is in place, and that the gates are open that day.  It is an occasion for the family of the deceased to gather at his/her grave to pay honor to the memory, to pray and meditate.  It is a moment when those who gathered around the deceased in life, drawn by love, gather once again around in death, also called by that love.  Candles, food, or liquor served at the cemetery are totally inappropriate.

Yahrzeit (Year’s Time)

Yahrzeit is the anniversary of the date of death.  Reform practice allows the use of the civil calendar.  The Yahrzeit day is not a day for mourning, but for remembrance, and in keeping with this spirit, one usually refrains from undue social activities during that day.

The yahrzeit begins with the evening preceding the date of death.  The observance consists of the lighting of a memorial light (a twenty-four hour candle, oil lamp, or any other light) starting on the eve of the yahrzeit. This is followed by the prayer “El Malei Rachamim” and the recitation of the Kaddish in the midst of a congregation at a service at the first opportunity after the yahrzeit.

Memorial Service – Yizkor

The word Yizkor is the initial word used in the traditional memorial service, translated as “May God Remember.”  This memorial service takes place on Yom Kippur and on the last day of the Festivals.  At Community Reform Temple, all are encouraged to stay for the Yizkor Service, in memory of our own deceased, the six million killed in the Holocaust, and all other Jewish martyrs.

Additional Information

There is a selection of pamphlets in the Temple library with more information about these topics.