When Jacob’s mother passed away, he called the local funeral home to make the necessary arrangements. “What cemetery did your mother plan to be buried in?” they asked. Jacob, full of intense emotions, drew a total blank at this practical question.
When Shifra’s father died suddenly, she was charged with arranging the funeral. After the service, her father’s sister Beth walked over to her and exclaimed, “You made this funeral and you don’t even know your grandfather’s Hebrew name?!” My grandfather died when I was three years old, thought Shifra. Just add it to the list of ways I was not ready for this day.
Unfortunate events happen when we least expect them. I (or we at Kol HaBirah) want to make sure that you have the knowledge to make the best decisions possible, decisions that you will not regret. I reached out to three funeral homes in the Metro DC area in order to provide you with the information and tools necessary to make the right decisions when the time comes.
Albert Bloomfield is the co-owner and funeral director at Sagel Bloomfield Danzanksy Goldberg Funeral Care in Rockville, Maryland. Matt Levinson is the vice president at Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. in Baltimore. Joyce Torchinsky is the owner and funeral director of Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home in Washington, D.C. All generously shared valuable information for our readers.
What information would be helpful for people to know and what can people do before contacting a provider to help with funeral arrangements?
Bloomfield: If the funeral had been pre-arranged, make sure to let the funeral home know. Mention if your family has been serviced by the funeral home in the past, this way the home can pull out old records and help match the family's preferences.
Levinson: Since Jewish funerals have a rapid time frame, many decisions are condensed into a short period of time. Many people come in and make all the arrangements and decisions in advance so they and their family are prepared.
Torchinsky: There is a lot of information you can prepare beforehand and put in a safe place. Make sure that this place is known and accessible. This information includes things such as the date and place of birth of the deceased, as well as his or her full Hebrew name and their parents’ full names, including maiden names.
What is the general process of making funeral arrangements for someone?
Bloomfield: We’re basically event planners. We need a lot of questions answered in order to do the job properly. Once we have the information, we sit with the family and go through the details.
Levinson: We make all the arrangements for the family. This includes calling the rabbi, scheduling the funeral, submitting the death notice to newspapers, helping organize shiva (week-long mourning period), webcasting the funeral, and walking you through the entire process.
Torchinsky: At our funeral home, you can make arrangements over the phone. If you are able, call yourself. In a situation like this, you want to make sure you get all the details right.
What are some of the common challenges you see?
Bloomfield: It’s important for people to know if there have been pre-arrangements and what they are. What is the cemetery? Who is the rabbi? Make sure to tell the funeral home if there have been pre-arrangements.
Levinson: There are times when a family “comes in from scratch.” We’ll find them a rabbi, help them pick a cemetery, help make arrangements, and offer to sit down with them to go over the details. It’s a bit more challenging when nothing has been planned. If the family hasn’t made arrangements, we can certainly walk them through every step of the way.
Torchinsky: It’s very difficult when family members can’t be reached. Keep your cell phone on, charged, and near you. We are working under time constraints. We need information for newspaper notices, and cemetery times must be scheduled quickly. Before submitting legal documents required for burial, we send them to the family to review. It is imperative that this information is accurate.
What do you find meaningful about your work?
Bloomfield: It’s very gratifying when we finish with a family and their comment is that we made everything so much easier. When they thought it would be hard, we made it easy and seamless.
Levinson: This is definitely a difficult business. Every day is different and this can take a toll. Sometimes you’re dealing with people at their worst. Even though it can be difficult, it’s very rewarding knowing that you can help a family at a trying time.
Torchinsky: I love to listen to people’s stories. When people tell me “I have no family,” I tell them, “you have me.”
Do you have any final advice for your community?
Bloomfield: Do not be scared of the process. Discussing it with children and grandchildren and having a plan in place will make it easier for everyone. The goal of our funeral home is to help the family through this difficult time. Information ahead of time helps everyone. Call the funeral home in advance and get comfortable with the funeral home. Observe the staff. Are they sensitive, informed, and patient? The service you receive now will be a reflection of how you will feel the entire time dealing with the funeral home.
Levinson: Educate yourself. We take care of our families even after the funeral. These services are at no cost to families. We have a series of programs throughout the year. Topics include: bereavement groups, pre-planning funerals, purchasing cemetery lots, living on one’s own when older, and grieving.
Torchinsky: It’s important to think about the future. This includes death, planning in advance, and making choices. But it is even more important to focus on life. Wake up every morning and try to make someone’s life a little better.
Sagel Bloomfield Danzansky
Goldberg Funeral Care: 301-340-1400, SagelBloomfield.com
Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc.:
Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home:
By Ariel Levi