“Birth is a beginning and death a destination. And life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage – To life everlasting.”
When we experience the loss of a loved one, death becomes the crisis of life.
"Judaism is a faith that embraces all of life, and death is a part of life. As this faith leads us through moments of joy, so does it guide us through the terrible moments of grief, holding us firm through the complex emotions of mourning, and bidding us to turn our gaze from the night of darkness to the daylight of life."…Maurice Lamm
Jewish tradition encourages us to accept and encounter death as a part of life. Still, most of us prefer to focus on life and the living and to deal with death only when we are forced to do so.
However, the recognition that life is finite and that death is a reality to be accepted and anticipated is one of Judaism’s greatest insights.
We hope this material will be of assistance during this time of grief and sorrow. You may find comfort in traditional Jewish mourning practices, or adapt them to fit your own needs. Also included are actions that, if done prior to a death, will make the “business of death” less painful. Remember that Temple Israel's clergy, staff and Caring Community are here to help you.
The Caring Community provides assistance, primarily in the form of labor, to the bereaved during Shivah. Specifically, members of the Caring Community help out at the Meal of Condolence and the Shivah Minyan. Some examples of this assistance are as follows:
- Accept delivery of catered food for the Meal of Condolence in the home of the bereaved when the mourners are attending the graveside burial service
- Help the Temple Staff set up catered food that is delivered to the Temple during a Memorial Service
- Help set up and arrange the food donations from congregants and friends who attend a Shivah Minyan in the home of the bereaved.
For a more detailed list of the assistance the Caring Community provides during Shivah, click here.
To add your name to the list of those who are willing to volunteer, click here.
As we quoted in the Introduction, “Birth is a beginning, and Death a Destination.” Not as easy to face as to state. Those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one know it can be quite painful. Attending to those matters that will be left in the hands of those we leave behind prior to our death gives our loved ones peace of mind after our death.
We have tried to provide here a list of things that all of us should consider while we are alive so our loved ones do not need to do so in their grief.
- Advance Health Care Directive
- Will and/or Living Trust
- Mortuary Arrangements
- Funeral Arangements
- Additional Information
Advance Health Care Directive – Tells our families and physicians if we wish medications for pain, or life sustaining measures to be used. If you do not have an Advance Health Care Directive, you can call the office and ask for the name and phone number of a member of the Caring Community Committee that can help you with this. It needs to be witnessed by someone that is not related to you, and who will not be included in your will or trust. Be sure that you give the finalized version to your health care provider and members of your family.
Will and/or Living Trust – Documents which deal with the disposition of your property upon your death. You might want to consult an attorney.
Mortuary Arrangements – See Area Funeral Homes
Funeral Arrangements – Different from Mortuary Arrangements, this relates to whether you want a communal or private service; any poetry you may want read at your service; the food you would like served; etc. Remember when planning this that much of the Jewish traditions surrounding funerals are designed to comfort and support the bereaved.
Additional information that your family will need is:
- The name and telephone number of your physician.
- The information regarding the pre-arranged Mortuary, or your desires regarding burial if pre-arrangements have not been made.
- The location of your will/trust.
- The names, locations and telephone numbers of your bank accounts, including the account numbers.
- The location of important papers such as your birth certificate, loans, military discharge papers, titles to your property (including vehicles), etc.
- Information on any investments that is not detailed in your will/trust.
When a loved one dies, it is important to immediately reach out for emotional support. Call a family member, a friend or someone else who can provide you with emotional support, especially for the hours immediately following your loved one’s death.
Call the Temple (562) 434-0996 ext.100 for Charmaine or ext.111 for Eric.
You can also call a funeral home. Most are open 24 hours a day.
Sometimes prior to death an individual has made certain arrangements and has communicated these with his/her loved ones. These arrangements and desires include preferences/expectations as to burial or cremation, eulogy, music, meal of condolence, minyan services. Sometimes an in-ground lot or crypt space has been purchased. Such arrangements allow the survivors to be free to respond to the death, as opposed to second-guessing what they should do.
In any event, when death occurs, the family should make decisions regarding the Jewish burial and Shivah customs they will follow:
Mortuary Services The mortuary will come to the place where the deceased is resting, remove the body and prepare it for burial or cremation. Traditionally embalming is not done, but if the body is to be shipped, or for some other reason there is a delay between death and burial, the body may be embalmed. In Judaism it is a mitzvah to bury the dead. Still, many Jews consider cremation rather than burial due to its financial appeal and convenience, and/or to honor the wishes of the deceased. The mortuary you choose will make the necessary arrangements with the cemetery once a date for burial is decided. No announcements of date and time should be made with the mortuary until consulting with the clergy regarding who will be officiating.
Burial Service at Cemetery/Graveside Jewish Law requires speedy burial, preferably within a 36-48 hour period after death. But delay is appropriate if more time is needed for family to arrive, or because of an autopsy. Arrange the time in consultation with the Temple to confirm availability of clergy. Sometimes, graveside services are restricted to family members, and a separate Memorial Service at the Temple is held for a wider group.
A simple wooden casket without metal is recommended.
The mortuary will help coordinate pallbearers; you may wish to provide the names of six people to escort the casket from the chapel to graveside.
Keriah is a Hebrew word meaning “tearing” and refers to a ritual in which clothing or a black ribbon is cut or torn as a sign of mourning. This is done just prior to the funeral service and worn by immediate family.
Whether the internment is graveside or cryptside, the burial service consists of a few brief prayers affirming God’s justice, reminding those in attendance that love is stronger than death, and concludes with the recitation of Kaddish.
The mourner’s Kaddish is the prayer we associate with the remembrance of the dead, although it says nothing about death or grief. The prayer itself praises God, expresses hope for the messianic era and asks God for peace in the world. If the service is graveside, the family and attendees may participate in a traditional gesture of farewell by placing earth on the casket. This is done prior to reciting Kaddish.
Funeral services are not held on the Sabbath.
Memorial Service at the Temple This service is typically brief, and includes psalms, poetry or insightful prose, prayers as well as the eulogy. Family members and friends are encouraged to prepare written reflections about their loved one. These may be read by the person that wrote them or a person they designate, or the Rabbi/Cantor.
The service concludes with a prayer called “El Mahley Rahamim”, which speaks of the deceased person finding rest under the wings of the Divine Presence.
Meal of Condolence The custom is to hold the Meal of Condolence (S’eudat ha-havra-ah) following the graveside ceremony. If a Meal of Condolence is held in a home and immediately follows the graveside service, some families like to have a pitcher of water, a basin and towels for people to wash their hands before entering the “Shivah” house. Washing one’s hands upon entering the house of mourning symbolizes leaving the cemetery behind and returning to life.
A Meal of Condolence can also be arranged at the Temple after a memorial service. Traditional foods served at the meal of condolence are hard-boiled eggs, bread, lentils. Wine and hard liquor (in moderation) are also traditional. However, none of these foods are required. This meal should not be prepared by the immediate family.
Shivah Minyan Refers to the daily prayer services in the mourner's home offer community and connection to those facing devastating loss. Depending on the number of people you believe will want to pay their respect, from one to three minyanim can be arranged. A minyan can be led either by clergy or lay leaders.
Visitation in the Home (nichum avelim) Appointed times in your home the first week after burial (publicized in the Bereavement Notice, below), when people can call on those who are bereaved and express their condolences in a more intimate setting. It is a mitzvah for friends and congregants to visit the house of mourning during the Shivah period.
Caring Community Assistance Determine if you would like to have assistance from The Caring Community at the Meal of Condolence and/or Shivah Minyanim. Click here to see the type of bereavement assistance that the Caring Community will provide.
Temple Israel Bereavement Notice The Temple will assist you with the wording of the Bereavement Announcement that the office will send out to congregants via email. Included will be the names and relationship of survivors; and pertinent information regarding any graveside service, memorial service, meal of condolence, Shivah Minyanim, and visitation times during Shivah (the first seven days after burial.)
Attending to the secular needs at this time include writing an obituary announcement for the newspaper, if desired, and making arrangements to get a copies of the Death Certificate from a doctor.
NOTE: Even when a loved one dies when he or she is out of town, it is important to contact the Temple to let them know of the death. Often, congregants want to speak with one of our clergy before returning home. Members may choose to arrange for a local Minyan when they return, so the Temple can support them in their loss.
Aninut, a Hebrew word meaning “deep sorrow,” is a legal category of mourning used to designate the period from death to burial. An individual who has lost a loved one is referred to as an “onen” during this time.
Our Jewish tradition acknowledges that the pain and shock of loss must be respected. Upon the death of a loved one, the onen is occupied with the immediacy of practical arrangements, such as contacting the cemetery and Rabbis and arranging for services and the meal of condolence, etc.
During aninut, an onen is freed from observing all positive mitzvot, except observing Shabbat.
Friends should refrain from expressing condolences until after interment. Close friends may offer to help with the funeral arrangements.
“Mourning can be a strange and foreign land. It helps to have a map. The best map available is the one provided by the rituals of Jewish mourning. Indeed, mourning is a dance. It is the dance that has been choreographed over the millennia by everyone who has passed through the mourner’s path. By making loss and bereavement visible, we can fulfill the psalmist’s promise: to turn mourning into dancing”. From “Reclaiming the Mourner’s Path” by Anne Brener.
As mourners and friends approach the home, Shivah begins. Shivah, a Hebrew word meaning seven, refers to the seven day period of mourning. It begins after the burial and concludes a short time after the morning service seven days later.
It is customary to observe Shivah in the home of the deceased. When this is not possible, it may be observed in the home of an immediate family member or friend. Most importantly, the family should be together during this time.
Traditionally observant Jews observe Shivah for seven days and cover the mirrors so that grief-stricken mourners do not have to worry about their appearance. Many Reform Jews observe Shivah for three days and recite Kaddish once a day.
At the end of this period, in many communities, the mourner walks around the block with friends or family, thus marking reentry into the world and the end of this time of mourning. In the weeks and months following the Shivah, mourners begin to readjust to their lives without the deceased. Tradition provides the framework for this process.
Sheloshim – A Hebrew word meaning “thirty” and refers to the traditional thirty-day period of mourning following burial. At the completion of Shivah, mourners return to their normal schedules. They may continue wearing the keriah ribbon until 30 days have elapsed. Many do not attend purely social functions, except for those associated with a baby naming, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah and a wedding. Mourning is concluded at the end of Sheloshim, except in the case of a parent, which traditionally lasts 12 months. After Sheloshim, the family can consider a permanent marker, including the wording, and have it readied for placement. The setting of the marker is usually a family event.
Yahrzeit – A German/Yiddish word meaning “year’s time,” refers to the annual Jewish commemoration of a loved one’s death. Many Reform Jews light a 24-hour Yahrzeit candle, recite Kaddish at temple on the Shabbat closest to the secular calendar anniversary, make contributions in honor of the deceased, and visit the cemetery close to the Yahrzeit date.
Yizkor – A Hebrew word meaning “remembrance” and refers to special services associated with certain Jewish Holidays which are specifically dedicated to the memory of our loved ones. Reform congregations typically have Yizkor service on Shavuot, Yom Kippur, Sukot and the last day of Passover. At Temple Israel, these services include attending a Yizkor luncheon.
Jewish tradition guides both the mourner and the comforter through the bereavement process. Friends should refrain from expressing condolences until after interment. Close friends may offer to help with the funeral arrangements.
Nichum avelim (comforting the mourner) is the mitzvah of visiting the house of mourning during Shivah and beyond. A Shivah visit is also referred to as a condolence call.
The obligation to comfort the mourner is traced back to the Torah, which portrays God as comforting Isaac upon the death of his father, Abraham. We are imitating a Divine act of consolation when making a Shivah call.
Visitors reassure mourners that their burden of grief is real, but can be withstood, because they are not alone. Visitors can soften the pain and allow the mourner to express his/her grief and hold onto treasured memories within the embrace of the community. The process of visitation allows the mourner to express sorrow openly, while at the same time, being led gently but firmly back to life and the world of the living.
The Shivah Visit/The Role of the Comforter
Condolence calls take place following the burial, during the Shivah period. Mourners can be visited any time during Shivah, but most commonly Shivah visits take place in the evening after the Shivah service. During this time, the door to the mourner’s home generally remains unlocked. Shivah visits should be kept short; about thirty to forty-five minutes is sufficient.
Often people feel unsure about just what to say and how to approach the mourner. Visitors often believe it is their job to lighten the mourner’s sadness. This is not the case. There are no words that can remove grief after the loss of a loved one. Jewish tradition actually encourages visitors to remain silent and to wait for the mourner to speak. This allows the mourner to express grief, including tears.
Visitors can provide comfort just by their presence. Sitting with, holding hands, and just listening are often the best things visitors can do. A simple “I’m sorry” or a hug can communicate one’s caring and sympathy. Listening, sharing, accepting feelings and offering help as needed are all gifts given by the comforter.
In general, it is important not to minimize the loss. It is also important to avoid cliches and easy answers such as “He had a good life,” or “She is no longer in pain.” Visitors should ask questions that allow the mourner to talk about his or her grief and his/her memories of the deceased. They should accept the mourner’s emotions and follow his or her lead in sharing memories and reminiscences.
Visitors should not hesitate to share their own stories about the deceased.
When making a Shivah visit, it is appropriate to bring a gift of food. Donations to the deceased’s synagogue or favorite charity are always welcome.
After Shivah is Over
Often, the full impact of a loss is not felt until Shivah is over. Remaining in contact after Shivah and Sheloshim end lets mourners know friends are there for them. Too often after the initial mourning period, support disappears when people need it the most.
Grieving takes time and patience as the mourner adapts and readjusts to a changed reality. Jewish customs and traditions provide a framework to guide us in helping the mourner through this process.
Forest Lawn – Long Beach 1500 East San Antonio Drive Long Beach, CA 90807
Groman Mortuary, Inc. 830 West Washington Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90015
(800) 371-0893 or (213) 748-2208
Harbor Lawn-Mt Olive Memorial Park & Mortuary 1625 Gisler Ave Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Hillside Memorial Park 6001 Centinela Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90045
Home of Peace Memorial Park 4334 Whittier Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90023
Malinow & Silverman Mortuary 7366 Osage Ave Los Angeles, CA 90045
Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills 5950 Forest Lawn Dr Los Angeles, CA 90068
Mount Sinai Simi Valley 6150 Mt Sinai Dr Simi Valley, CA 93063
Rose Hills Mortuary 3888 Workman Mill Road Whittier, CA 90601
Listed below are resources to assist those who are mourning or dealing with illness.
On the Doorposts of Your House, Prayers and Ceremonies for the Jewish Home by Central Conference of American Rabbis
This book contains prayers and readings. Pages 153 - 159 pertain to Illness and Recovery. Pages 160 - 193 pertain to most aspects of losing a loved one.
The Jewish Home, A guide for Jewish Living by Daniel B. Syme
Chapter 18 of this book is “Death and Mourning.”
Mourning & Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner's Path Through Grief to Healing by Rabbi Anne Brenner
A spiritual and beautiful guide to mourning, this book will help with any loss.
The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Maurice Lamm
This book, first published in 1969, has long been considered a beautiful and comprehensive guide on death and mourning. It is a very traditional/orthodox approach.