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Death & Mourning

Death & Mourning

When a loved one dies, families and friends need comfort and support. There are often many decisions to be made amidst a time of emotional and spiritual needs. Our congregation, staff and Rabbi are here to be present with you.  As a loved one’s death approaches, as you are faced with decisions about funeral arrangements or hospice care, at the time of a death, and in the days, weeks, and months of mourning that follow.

What To Do When a Death Occurs

When a death occurs, a funeral home will help you with the immediate arrangements. We encourage you to notify Beth Shalom’s office so we can support you during this time. If Beth Shalom is closed, call the Beth Shalom President, Sally Zenick, at 919-851-7012, or call Rabbi Edery directly at home at 919-552-4277 or on his cell at 919-633-2048. We will return your call as soon as possible.

Funeral Home and Funeral Arrangements:

There are no exclusively Jewish funeral homes in our area, but a few are familiar and experienced with Jewish funerals and Jewish customs.

Montlawn Funeral Home        (919) 772-1073

Brown-Wynne Funeral Home (919) 828-4311

The funeral home will help you in scheduling a time for the funeral. In Jewish tradition, the funeral is typically scheduled for the earliest possible time, provided that it allows for all needed arrangements to be made, and for family and friends to be present. Burial is not permitted on Shabbat or most Jewish holidays.

If you have already made arrangements with a funeral home, they will also help you in contacting the Rabbi and scheduling the funeral. Please do not schedule a funeral service without calling us to ensure that our Rabbi will be available at the desired time.

Cemetery

From the very beginning of Jewish history, it has been our tradition to provide a dignified burial place, and a dedicated place, which the Jewish community supports for this purpose (and not for gain). This tradition started when Abraham bought the plot for his wife Sarah’s burial and has continued through the ages and continents. There is one Jewish cemetery in our community, Raleigh Hebrew Cemetery, located on 200 State St., Raleigh.  Contact Howard Margulies at 919-614-2153 or Richard Ruby at 919-787-8791

Preparation for Burial (Tahara)

Jewish tradition emphasizes the duty to honor the deceased, and to show his/her remains complete respect. Since ancient times, certain practices were developed to ensure that is accomplished. This is customarily done by a Chevrah Kadishah, a group of Jews who have been trained in the rituals of preparing a body for burial. The traditional washing and shrouding of the deceased’s body is called Taharah. The body is washed and wrapped in simple white linen shrouds and, if the family chooses, a personal tallit (prayer shawl). Reform Jews often find that these practices are not needed nowadays, yet some still want these performed. While we do not have a Chevrah Kadishah at Beth Shalom, there is one in the community, and we will help to contact them and arrange for their involvement. If you want the Chevra Kadishah’s involvement, you should discuss this with the Funeral Home before you contract their services.
Generally speaking, Jewish custom is not to embalm the body in any way, unless it is necessary (for transportation to another city or country). We also, out of respect for the deceased, do not have any public viewing as part of the funeral service.

Funeral Service

There are two parts to the funeral: a service, and the internment. The service consists of Psalms and other liturgical readings, remembering and honoring the deceased by speaking about them and their life, and prayers for the person who has died and for those in mourning. Family members or friends may want to, and are encouraged to, speak at the funeral service.

The second part of the funeral service is the internment. The coffin is lowered into the grave and the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited. This prayer does not mention death or the person who has died, but praises God as the source of life and peace. Customarily family and friends come forward after the Mourner’s Kaddish to place earth over the coffin. Then the service is concluded, and mourners depart.

For the majority of funerals, the entire service is held at graveside. However, it is also possible to have the first part of the funeral at a funeral home. As part of the conversations with him, Rabbi Edery will help to guide you through all the details and choices you will need to care for at this time.

Keri’ah

Keriah refers to the rending of one’s garment after learning of a loved one’s death. As far back as Biblical times, Jews have made a tear in their garment as a physical symbol of their grief. Today, at the very beginning of the funeral, the Rabbi will invite the immediate mourners (spouse, parents, children, and siblings) to cut and rend a clothing item they are wearing, or to accomplish this by pinning a black ribbon on their clothing and tearing it instead.

Cremation

In Jewish tradition and history, only a burial has been seen as the proper way to handle the remains of a loved one with care and respect. In fact, participating in a burial has been seen as a duty which close relatives should fulfill. In addition, a marked grave in a cemetery offers those in mourning, extended family and friends, and even future generations, a concrete place where they can visit and honor the memory of their loved ones in years to come.

While Jews are encouraged for all these reasons, and more, to provide a burial for their deceased loved ones, at Beth Shalom we want to help and support the mourners also when a different path – such as cremation – is chosen. When you discuss these matters with our Rabbi, several ways of accomplishing the goals of tradition and the needs of mourning will be found.

Shivah Arrangements

The first few days following a burial are still a period of intense grieving. In Jewish tradition these days are called Shivah (meaning ‘seven’) since they were marked for seven days. Nowadays these days are marked in a variety of ways, according to the specific circumstances of the situation, personal preferences, location and traveling needs, and other factors unique to each situation.  We encourage you to mark these days by sharing this Shivah period with your congregation and community. Please communicate with our Rabbi and our Office to tell us what your preference will be, and so we can schedule and coordinate a Shivah service.

 

Our Mitzvah Committee, a group of volunteers, coordinates the support and care for families and individuals during these times. They will help our Office and Rabbi to coordinate the Shivah services. This group is currently led by Rhonda Levy.
About Jewish Mourning Customs:

Mourning and grieving for a loved one is a very personal and intimate experience for each of us. Yet, Jewish tradition outlines a set of rituals and a process for mourning. These rituals of mourning are designed both to honor the deceased and their memory, and to assist one through the grieving process, gradually moving from pain towards healing.

We encourage you to consult with the Rabbi as you decide in what ways you would like to observe these mourning customs. Know that there is not one “right” way to follow these rituals; they were established to serve the needs of the mourners and to honor the deceased, and so each family may observe them in different ways depending upon their specific needs, circumstances and customs.

Shivah:

Already in Biblical times mourners took the first seven days (“Shivah” means “seven” in Hebrew) after the death as days of mourning. The immediate mourners (spouse, parents, siblings, children) would then suspend their usual routines, and perform further rituals to express their sadness and to honor the deceased, and to allow the community to offer them comfort and support. These customs have varied and changed over time, as times and communities have changed.

While the traditional length of Shivah is seven days, the practice in Reform Jewish communities varies. Some families choose to sit Shivah for one, two, or three evenings, each choosing what is more appropriate for their own circumstances and situation. In each case the choice on how to mark the Shivah should be made considering many factors, such as whether the death occurred in town or out-of-town, if relatives are here or what their travelling needs are, and other particular family situations. Beth Shalom will ensure that the Rabbi or a capable congregant be available to lead a minyan on the evenings the family is sitting Shivah.

Generally, these are the practices observed: mourners light a memorial candle during Shivah; mourners mark and express outwardly their mourning status, as when sitting on lower seats when gathered with others, or wearing their rent clothes; mourners do not engage in work or routine chores; extended family and friends generally bring food to comfort the mourners, providing both practical help and emotional support; and some choose to cover the mirrors in the house, perhaps as a reminder that external appearances do not matter during this time. In the evening, there may be a Shivah Minyan (a prayer service) including the mourner’s recitation of Kaddish. One does not sit Shivah on Shabbat or on holidays.

Visiting a House of Mourning

It is a mitzvah (commandment) to honor someone who has died, and it is another mitzvah to console those who are in mourning by visiting someone who is sitting Shivah.  We do both. This is a tradition very much cherished in Beth Shalom, which has brought comfort to many when they most needed it, and which has also strengthened our community.

Traditionally, when visiting a home in which mourners are sitting Shivah, it is not necessary to ring the doorbell or for the mourners to greet visitors. Generally it is a good idea to follow the mourner’s conversation.  If they want to be silent, remain silent, and if they want to talk about something, join with them. The most important part is to be present and show support. It is also customary to send or bring food to the house of mourning. The Mitzvah Community helps to coordinate this.

Seven “Tips” About Attending Shivah

While every shiva, every loss and each mourner are unique, here are seven “mourner’s tips” to help all make this hard days meaningful and helpful.

  1. Even if you did not know the deceased, but you know and respect the mourner, pay a shiva call. People sometimes feel that they may be disturbing the mourner. “I’m not that close,” they think, “I shouldn’t interfere.” But it’s the only seven days they will ever be sitting for that particular loved one, and they want desperately to share stories and photos with just about anyone who will listen. Your presence is exactly what they need.
  2. You only need to stay a short time. If the mourner is tired or needs to eat, simply excuse yourself. They will remember you came, even if only for five minutes.
  3. You do not need to say a word. Just offer a hug or a hand. Let the mourner start the conversation or simply sit next to them and be supportive. This is not the time to share your troubles with them; it doesn’t make them feel better to know someone else is also hurting. This is a time only to reflect, remember, and be there for someone else.
  4. You do not need to “cheer them up.” You do not need to fill the silence with chatter. You do not need to offer answers to an anguished “why” or a sorrowful sigh. You can simply say, “Yes, it’s so difficult. I understand.”
  5. Kids should come. Bring them. There isn’t anything scary about a shiva visit. Just have them come up to the mourners and say, “Hello. I am so sorry for your loss.” That’s all. Having them there affirms that life is still beautiful, positive, and optimistic.
  6. Offering to bring a meal the night before the funeral is an amazing act of kindness. If you do pay a shiva call, consider bringing snacks: fruit, nuts, healthy things the mourner can munch during the day when they don’t feel like having a full meal. If you do offer a meal, be sure to stay afterwards to clean up. If you come for evening minyan, find a way to help tidy up after. The mourner’s family will be as exhausted at the end of the day as they are. And meals and invitations after the shiva are still deeply appreciated, as the mourner and their family may still be in a daze many days after. Nothing magic happens after shiva officially ends, and mourners don’t go back to “normal” quickly.

If you are unable to pay a shiva call, do not feel awkward phoning or sending a card, an email, or a donation, or sharing condolences when you see the mourner days, weeks, or even months afterward. One of the worst moments for a mourner is when the calls, cards, emails, and sympathies stop. As long as people offer condolences, the mourner still feels like their loved one – and their sense of loss – is being acknowledged. In fact, it’s often after the shiva that the real loneliness sets in. You are still needed, whether or not you paid a shiva call.

The loss of a loved one is not temporary. It is forever. We are sustained by friendship, family, and community long after our mourning days are over. Our loved ones live on when we share not only what their life taught us, but what their loss continues to teach us.

Sheloshim

This is the period of mourning for the first thirty days after a funeral. During our Shabbat services at Beth Shalom, we will mention the names of those who have died in the past thirty days before we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. Sheloshim is a time to gradually ease out of the intense mourning of Shivah, to return to work and start to resume everyday activities, while still adjusting to the pain of loss.

Yahrzeit

Yahrzeit (“time of the year”) refers to the anniversary of someone’s death. The Yahrzeit of a loved one is commemorated with the lighting of a memorial candle at home, and reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish at prayer services. When a Beth Shalom member or relative passes away, this is noted in our office records, and then, when the Yahrzeit date approaches, a reminder is sent to the family or individual remembering a loved one.

Unveilings

The unveiling is a ceremony customarily held within the first year of mourning.  After a gravestone is placed, it is covered with a cloth. During an unveiling ceremony, the cloth is removed, family and friends who are present share memories or brief eulogies, and the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited. Some follow the custom of placing a small pebble or stone on the grave marker after visiting.  This ritual comes from the biblical practice of using heaps of stones as grave markers, and also signals the family’s presence.
Rabbi Edery is available to officiate at unveiling ceremonies. However, it is not required to have a rabbi present for this ceremony. Our Rabbi may also assist you in preparing readings, or planning a ceremony you and your family may lead on your own, or out-of-town, as you prefer.

Memorial Plaques

In the wall of our synagogue we have a Memorial, Izcor Board, where our loved ones’ names may be set to be honored and remembered. For info contact our office, or see http://bethshalomnc.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Content-6-6-1-9-Yahrzeit-Plate-Request-Form.pdf