Home > Spirituality > Lifecycle Events > Funeral and Bereavement Guide
If there is a lifecycle emergency, contact Rabbi Harris first: 301-652-2606, ext. 105. If he does not pick up, contact the synagogue office: 301-652-2606.
After office hours, call the following numbers in this sequence until you have reached one of these synagogue officers who can provide the information you need immediately:
Jewish funeral and mourning practices have developed over centuries. Many people comment that the guidance offered by Jewish tradition was extremely helpful and provided support during the difficult time of loss. The rituals for friends and families have been developed to address the feelings of intense grief that the death of a loved one. People are often overcome with feelings of guilt, hurt, loss anger, or listlessness. The Jewish way of mourning lessens the loneliness and isolation of the bereaved and brings the individual into a community of comforters.
The clergy of Beth El work with the Chevra Kadisha to help families through this difficult time. The Chevra Kadisha is a group of men and women dedicated to serving the needs of congregants who experience a death in the family. It provides a Shivah meal and, most importantly, will, on request, perform tahara. (The clergy arrange for minyan leaders, prayer books, and Shivah chairs as needed.) Tahara is the careful and caring preparation of the body of the deceased for burial, in accordance with Jewish custom and law. The traditional view is that each person is holy. Hence, the preparations for burial are done with respect and honor for the deceased.
The work of the Chevra Kadisha constitutes a Chesed Shel Emet, a true act of kindness that is performed without ulterior motive, for the service can never be repaid. There is no charge for these services and no synagogue funds are allocated for them. Donations to Beth El’s Chevra Kadisha Fund allow it to continue its work.
If Beth El’s Chevra Kadisha is not available, we will help make arrangements for tahara with the City Wide Chevra Kadisha.
Beth El’s Chevra Kadisha does not offer Shomrim services. Shomrim, guardians for the body, sit with the body at the funeral home 24 hours a day until the time of burial. If you would like this to occur, you can make these arrangements directly with the funeral home you have selected.
Any questions regarding the operations of Beth El’s Chevra Kadisha should be directed to Alan Morrison, Chairman, at 301-229-3696, or to the clergy. At the time of death, the clergy will contact the Chevra Kadisha.
Beth El members are able to choose any funeral home they prefer. Each of the following funeral homes have been used by our members to their satisfaction. They are listed in alphabetic order. Each provides a similar level of service and array of options, but the costs vary. FTC regulations require full disclosure of funeral rates, so you should ask for a complete and clear accounting of their charges.
Beth El works in partnership with the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington. Beth El members benefit from the JFPCGW negotiated contract with Hines-Rinaldi for providing funeral services at very competitive costs.
Each of these funeral homes performs Jewish burials and proper preparations. Torchinsky is the only Jewish owned funeral home in the area but does not offer the JFPCGW rates.
Purchasing mortuary services before a loved one dies is possible but not encouraged. This is called a “pre-need” purchase. As opposed to the purchase of cemetery plots, which some people do well before an illness or other decline, mortuary services do not need to be made in advance. If you value the peace of mind that comes with pre-need arrangements, you can speak with the funeral homes directly.
There are a number of Jewish cemeteries in the Washington area. Some belong to long-standing congregations. Beth El has synagogue sections at different cemeteries but does not own its own cemetery. Feel free to consult with the clergy or Executive Director in deciding where to purchase plots.
It is wise to do this planning and purchase long before the plots will be needed. It relieves the family of a difficult decision if death comes unexpectedly. In addition to the plot itself, it is also necessary to purchase services for the actual interment, the liner and installation, etc. These arrangements are made directly with the cemetery. Purchasing these services pre-need is also possible and done directly with the cemetery.
Five cemeteries are commonly used by Beth El members:
Jewish law requires that burial take place as soon as possible. This is done as a sign of respect for the deceased. It is also provides great psychological benefit to the family. In today’s world, however, brief delays are often necessary to allow family members to gather. The Sabbath and Jewish holidays may also necessitate delays. The clergy should be consulted in these cases.
The following are considerations that we bring to your attention.
Funeral services may be held in the synagogue, the funeral home, or at the graveside. This is one of the most important decisions to be made after a death takes place and should be made in consultation with family and the clergy.
Other customs and considerations for the day of the burial:
Shiva (the first seven days according to tradition): Shiva is the period of intensive mourning observed by the immediate family of the deceased. Shiva begins on the day of burial, not the day of death. The “official” mourners are: spouse, siblings, parents, and children of the deceased. Those who have married into a relationship with the deceased are affected by the loss but are not obligated to perform the rituals of mourning.
The mirrors in a Shiva house are traditionally covered, and a seven-day memorial candle is kindled. Mourners sit on lower seats where possible. It is customary to arrange for a meal of condolence (which traditionally includes round foods such as eggs) to be served to the mourners and those who have accompanied and returned home with them from the cemetery. A pitcher of water and hand towels should be placed outside the door of the house for those who went to the cemetery to wash their hands before entering the house. No blessing is recited.
Mourners are encouraged to participate in morning prayer services at synagogue and hold evening prayers in the Shiva house with the exception of Shabbat. Reciting Kaddish is one of the key parts of these services. Mourners may lead the prayer service in their home or request that the synagogue provide a leader.
While people will be coming to the shiva home, the mourners are not hosting the event. It is the obligation of the community to support the mourners and thus it is customary to provide the mourners with food and assistance. Friends and relatives should help supervise the preparation and/or ordering of necessary food and supplies. Beth El provides a platter at a time arranged with the family, either for the meal of condolence or later on in the Shiva period. Many who come to the Shiva house will bring food with them.
During the Shiva period, mourners are urged to stay away from work or school in order to have time to contemplate the meaning of the cycle of life and the adjustments that will be required of them.
Public mourning observances are suspended on the Sabbath as the sanctity and serenity of this day supersede one’s personal grief. Mourners are encouraged to attend Sabbath services but are not given an Aliyah. Kria (the torn garment) is not displayed publicly. A major Holiday Festival terminates Shiva (consult the clergy for details.)
Shloshim (the first thirty days): during the thirty days following burial (except during Shiva) mourners may return to work and normal activities but refrain from public entertainment or social activities. They are encouraged to attend services on a regular (daily) basis and recite Kaddish. The K’ria is worn by some during shloshim, while others cease doing so at the conclusion of the Shiva.
Shanah (the first year): mourners for deceased parents continue to attend daily services to recite Kaddish for eleven months and continue to refrain from celebratory activities for a full year.
Yahrzeit (anniversary of death): the Kaddish is recited each year on the anniversary of the death (not the burial).
Yizkor (memorial prayers): Yizkor prayers are recited on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, Pesach and Shavuot.
Prayer books and Guides for Mourning Rituals
Reflections on saying Kaddish and the Yizkor Service
Teen Friendly Resources
Resources for Young Children, Pre-teens and Teens (picture books, all available in the Beth El Library)
For Older Children (ages 10-13)
For Teens 12-17
Local support grief groups
This is a list of resources from the Rabbinical Assembly with many sections including Afterlife, Aging, Children, Civil Law, Cremation, Ethical Wills, Eulogy, Finances, Funeral practices, Grief and Sorry, History, Interfaith, Kaddish, Mourning, Oran Donation, Taharah, Traditional Practices, etc.) https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/jewish-law/lifecycle/death-and-mourning-1
Resources from the Gamliel Institute https://www.jewish-funerals.org/resources/books/
The Bond of Life: A Book for Mourners, Rabbi Jules Harlow (an Online shiva siddur, followed by many other instructional resources for mourners.) https://www.amazon.com/Bond-Life-Book-Mourners/dp/B001AATT92
The following readings can be used as introductions to the page or otherwise provided for comfort and inspiration for visitors to the bereavement resources website under the heading Short Readings:
A Prayer of Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav (1772-1810):
https://www.downtownsynagogue.org/blog//rabbis-message-the-great-outdoors This link doesn’t work.
Grant me the ability to be alone;
may it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grass – among all growing things
and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer,
to talk with the One to whom I belong.
May I express there everything in my heart,
and may all the foliage of the field –
all grasses, trees, and plants –
awake at my coming,
to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer
so that my prayer and speech are made whole
through the life and spirit of all growing things,
which are made as one by their transcendent Source.
May I then pour out the words of my heart
before your Presence like water, O God,
and lift up my hands to You in worship,
on my behalf, and that of my children!
To everything there is a season,
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time for giving birth, a time to die,
A time to plant, a time to uproot what is planted,
A time to break, a time to heal.
A time to weep, a time to laugh,
A time to mourn, a time to dance,
A time to seek, a time to lose,
A time to keep, a time to throw away,
A time to tear, a time to mend.
Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 (adaptation)
There are stars up above,
So far away we only see their light
long, long after the star itself is gone.
And so it is with people we loved
their memories keep shining ever brightly
though their time with us is done.
But the starts that light up the darkest night,
These are the stars that guide us.
As we live our days, these are the ways we remember.
Slightly different translation of the Senesh poem: https://www.ritualwell.org/ritual/yesh-kokhavim-there-are-stars
The Year of Kaddish
Loss steals language; you have nothing to say. A loving community buttresses you, feeding you, telling you when to stand and sit, thrusting into your slack hand the prayer book containing the chanted words that, until now, only other people knew by heart.
Download the Unveiling Ceremony Guide