Honoring The Deceased, Comforting The Mourners; Jewish Funeral Traditions

by Amy L. Silva Rigtrup

One of the things I love most about being a funeral director is that I get to work with, observe and learn from many different religions, denominations and spiritual beliefs. As funeral directors, we have to be open to any spiritual backgrounds and requests possessed by the families we serve. Getting to know all of the various church communities and witness the many types of services and customs is an opportunity most don't get to experience. 

This week on The Silva Lining, I highlighted the traditions and customs of Jewish Funerals. My guest was Rabbi Mark Elber, from Temple Beth El, here in Fall River, MA on the corner of Locust and High Streets. It may be impossible for me to fully articulate how much I enjoyed meeting and conversing with Rabbi Mark - regardless of your beliefs, I implore you to have a chat with a Rabbi. You will not be disappointed.

Here is the website for Temple Beth El - definitely worth a visit, online or in person!

In the Jewish Faith, all of the traditions surrounding death encompass rituals dating back to biblical references and the simple notions of honoring the deceased and comforting the mourners. It amazes me how customs that date back thousands of years are able to so eloquently have in mind the visceral needs of the deceased, mourners and support networks alike, providing meaningful guidelines, symbolic and physical expressions of love, grief, and even the innermost hesitations that come when accompanying your loved one to their resting place.

The sentiment that moved me the most - and will stay with me forever - is what Rabbi Mark shared about how the burial is symbolically viewed in the Jewish Faith:

"Physical burial itself is considered an act of true love and kindness; in which you do something for another person that they could never reciprocate"

We spent the hour talking about the history and customs behind the entire year of mourning in the Jewish tradition. Throughout the year, in many ways, but always in community, the mourning family reads the Kaddish prayer. Interestingly, this prayer speaks nothing of death - it is a prayer that praises God. Rabbi Mark noted that most comfort is found in this prayer and it is a reflection of hope and reaffirming "Blessed is the Eternal One in good and in bad".

Here is the Kaddish Prayer:

Exalted and hallowed be God's great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.
May God's majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel -- speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God's great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.

I was absolutely honored to share this conversation with Rabbi Mark - it truly is enlightening to learn about other religions and an absolute blessing to get to know a person like Rabbi Mark.

The reason I share different religions and belief systems is because it is a part of my job that I love. But for all of you listening and reading, you don't need to be a funeral director. The common thread however, can be death and funeral rituals - because honestly, that is the thread that connects us all. We are all human, we all love, therefore, we all grieve. 

So I challenge you all. Look into a religious/belief system's funeral rituals. See what you learn. See what you relate to. See what moves you. See what might make you look at funerals differently. At the least, I promise you an interesting read.

At the most, you'll gain education and acknowledgement about a religion you never knew much about before. With that, comes open-mindedness and respect. 

Few people do that, then a few more and who knows? Someday this world might become a better place.

The Silva Lining is thankful for our wonderful sponsor:

St. Anthony of Padua Credit Union - We are proud to be sponsored by such an incredible bank, that in an age of conglomerate banks treating people like numbers, maintains a relationship with its members based on trust, friendly service and loyalty. With competitive rates for savings accounts and various loans, St. Anthony of Padua can handle all of your financial needs. Convenient online banking and more information at www.stanthonyofpaduafcu.com