When death separates us from the one we love, life suddenly seems dark and the future empty. But, we are not without guidance at this critical moment in our lives. Judaism has developed a way of dealing with death and grief which can help us through this difficult period. The Jewish way is based on two principles: 1)k’vod hamet– honoring and respecting the deceased, and 2) nichum avelim– consoling the mourners. These two principles help mourners accept the reality of death, express their sorrow, and take up living without their beloved. Modern psychology has recognized the therapeutic value of the Jewish religious rituals and practices which help individuals express rather than repress their grief, talk about their loss with friends, and move step by step from inactivity to normal living.
If you know a death is approaching, please reach out to the clergy. They want to support you and your family. Among other ways, they are available to come to recite vidui, the Jewish prayer for saying “goodbye” to a loved one who is dying.
Following the death of a loved one, a funeral should be planned. According to Jewish law, it should take place as soon as possible keeping with the principles described above. The local Jewish funeral home, Hodroff-Epstein Memorial Chapel, can help make arrangements which include the following steps:
1. Contact the local funeral home, Hodroff-Epstein Memorial Chapel, at 612.871.1234.
2. Contact Beth El Synagogue at 952.873.7300.
3. Choose a date and time. This is done in coordination with the funeral home and clergy schedules.
4. Choose a location. Funerals are held either at Beth El (in the chapel or sanctuary) followed by internment at the cemetery or at the cemetery (either in the chapel or at the grave).
5. If you do not yet own cemetery plots, contact Michael Morris who is the cemetery administrator for Beth El Memorial Park as well as other local Jewish cemeteries at 612.998.0077.
6. Once the date, time and location are set, the family will generally meet with the rabbi to plan the funeral and usually go to Hodroff-Epstein to make additional arrangements.
7. One of the decisions that needs to be made is to choose a casket. Jewish law teaches that we are to use a simple, unadorned pine box to reflect that we are all equal in death.
8. Finally, a family will have to make plans for shiva. Traditionally, shiva lasts seven days with the day of the funeral counting as the first day. Shiva services typically take place at the mourner’s home but sometimes take place at Beth El or other community rooms. Contact the rabbis to schedule shiva.
9. Beth El’s in house caterer, Spirit of Asia, can provide shiva meals and the seudah havarah (the meal following the funeral). Their contact number is 612.724.4056.
For more information on Jewish views and practices surrounding death and mourning, contact Rabbi Alexander Davis, read A Time to Mourn or explore the Beth El Learning Center.