FAQs

We frequently receive questions that may require a slightly longer response than what we have room for on our main website. From details about Jewish funeral practices to slightly more unusual questions that may have been nagging at you, we’ll try to provide some answers here.

Any information about ritual practice is intended as a general overview for the broader Jewish community and there are many differences of opinion within this community. Concerns about specific ritual practices should be directed to your rabbi. Opinions expressed in blog posts and in external links may not represent the opinions of the staff or ownership of Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc.


What is Aging-in-Place?

StockSnap_28QNKCAHLMWhat does it mean to “age in place”? According to the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention the definition is, “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” The average life expectancy in this country continues to rise, and with this blessing comes challenges and responsibilities to help maintain the safety and quality of life for a growing senior population. With families more spread out than ever, many adult children worry about making decisions for – and ensuring the well-being of – their aging parents from a distance.

Most people’s first desire is to remain in their own home as they age, and there are important ways that homes can and should be updated to ensure one’s physical safety. Some of these modifications involve removing tripping hazards, placing assistive devices in bathrooms, re-arranging furniture, adding ramps, ensuring kitchen safety, and more. There are also concerns about medication management and transportation that may need to be resolved. There are many resources available in Baltimore to help people continue their independent lifestyle and remain in their communities and their own homes.

Jewish Community Services offers an Elder Care Management program. From their website, “JCS Elder Care Management supports individuals in their desire to continue living in their own homes or in other settings with maximum independence and dignity while providing their family and caregivers with peace of mind.” Please see their website for the many ways they can assist, including consultations, assessments, and care management services. 

Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. or, CHAI presents a broad range of community resources for seniors. They offer a supportive community network, housing services and loans, home repair, and other community outreach and volunteer programs. You can find all of these resources, as well as ways to volunteer or donate, by visiting their website.

Another vital part of being able to remain independent includes taking care of one’s self not only physically but mentally as well. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore offers a multitude of classes and events for seniors that allow them to socialize and remain connected to their community while staying physically active, strengthening both body and mind. There are classes available for visual arts, performing arts, book clubs, as well as their Lifelong Learning programs which offer enrichment classes on art and literature. Many of the programs and classes they offer are free or low cost. To find out more and see a comprehensive list of services they offer, you can visit their website.

If you are interested in learning about how to create more opportunities for  the community to better “age in place” you can also visit the National Aging in Place Council.

Thinking about our future or our parents’ futures isn’t always easy, but putting plans and practices in place now can help us ease into the next phase of life. Albert Einstein said “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” With the proper care and planning you can continue that balance well into the future, independently, safely and comfortably.

The Best Gift I Could Give My Children

Portrait Of Senior Couple Relaxing Together On SofaWe recently sat down to make pre-arrangements with a woman who told us her children thought that pre-planning her own funeral was the strangest thing for her to do, but she knew it was the best gift she could give them. Once all the decisions were made and everything was taken care of, she knew that all her family would have to do is pick up the phone and call Levinson’s when the time came. She said it gave her peace of mind to know they would not have to worry about making decisions while grieving, nor about the financial aspect of the funeral, and they would then understand how much of a gift she had given them.

It may seem surprising, but several hundred people a year come in to plan ahead for their funerals, or the funeral of a loved-one. We hear an incredible amount of positive feedback from them, with comments such as “That was a much easier conversation than I expected,” or “I feel so much better having had this conversation.” People uniformly thank us for making the process so easy.

When you come in to talk to us there are no obligations and there is no pressure. We give you all of the options and information, allow you to ask any questions you may have, and put together a personalized Pre-Planning Guide with funeral information and valuable resources for your family.

Funeral directors are available by appointment to meet you at either the funeral home in Pikesville, or at our Columbia Arrangement Center. If you wish to learn more about the benefits of planning ahead, include a video testimonial, please visit our website.

“Don’t Worry, I Took Care of Everything.”

Has a loved one ever told you they’ve “taken care of everything” related to their funeral? Do you know what they mean by that?

So many times we, as funeral directors, have taken a call from a family notifying us that someone has died and “they told me everything was taken care of” – and we have no record of them ever coming in to make decisions or to pre-pay anything. It turns out the person purchased cemetery plots and that is it. This is a horrible shock for the family at an already emotionally overwhelming time. Imagine believing the funeral has been paid in its entirety and finding out that is not the case.

If a loved one has told you “I took care of everything,” please ask them what they mean, and specifically ask if they have come to Levinson’s to review all the options. If they haven’t, consider bringing them in to sit down and have this – admittedly difficult – conversation. You will receive a personalized Pre-PlanniCompleted Guideng Guide, which contains:

  • funeral selections,
  • location of vital documents,
  • space to write down important information to be used in the eulogy,
  • resources for families to use at the time of someone’s passing,
  • and much more.

If they HAVE been in to discuss all the options, but it has been a while, we want to offer the opportunity to come in and get our new Pre-Planning Guide reflecting your selections. Please give us a call to come in and meet briefly with one of our funeral directors, who will review it with you and give you a copy. You don’t have to make any changes to your existing selections.

We are available to meet with you by appointment in our Pikesville and Columbia, MD locations. As always, information on planning ahead is available on our website.

Why Do We Place Stones At A Grave?

The Symbol of the Stone at the Grave

Have you ever wondered why Jews leave stones at the graves of their loved ones? Our Jewish faith teaches us to respect, mourn, remember, and care for the dead. Leaving stones at your loved one’s grave is a way of doing just that, for long after they have left this world.

StonesFrom the moment someone passes away, we go to great lengths to care for them. Not only in memory, by planning a respectful funeral that reflects the kind of life they lived, but also physically – as some opt for the ritual ceremony of Taharah (please see our previous blog post here) – and spiritually, by having a Shomer sit with them, ensuring they are never left alone. Visiting a loved one’s grave offers you time to reflect, meditate, and remember them. Leaving stones there commemorates those you’ve lost, as well as your visits.

So, why do we leave stones rather than flowers that you may see in a secular cemetery? There are two reasons for this. The first one being that the stone symbolizes permanence. We wish for our loved one’s soul to live eternally in the world to come. Flowers may be beautiful, but they do not last – their beauty fades, and petals fall – while a stone remains sturdy even against the elements. The second reason being that in life, flowers symbolize luxury, a prize or even status. Judaism tells us that in death, like in birth, we are all equal. We are all rocks against the elements to stand the test of time.

 

Honoring a Memory by Planting Trees

In the Jewish faith, there are many ways to celebrate, honor and commemorate the life of a loved one and perpetuate their legacy for future generations. Planting a tree in their memory is a time-honored tradition that is symbolic and heartfelt, and a very common and appropriate way to show your support. Tree planting ceremonies may help a mourner fill a void felt after the funeral and shiva period have ended. Alternatively, it is very common to make a donation to a tree-planting organization such as Jewish National Fund, in someone’s memory.

Traditionally, a fruit tree is planted because it symbolizes continual nourishment by the fruit it bears. A story is told of a man named Honi, who encountered another man planting a carob tree. “How long will it take to bear fruit?” he inquired. “About 70 years,” the man replied. “So you think you will live long enough to taste its fruits?” The man explained, “I have found ready-grown carob trees in the world. As my forefathers planted them for me, so I plant for my children.”

This is a great way to teach younger generations about the circle of life and the beliefs we hold regarding life and death in the Jewish faith. The life cycle is not only about raising families and participating in your community, but teaching the reasons why we take care of one another, and providing for future generations as was done for us.

Many families are thankful for the visual reminder of how their loved one made a positive mark on the community, and it is uplifting to see a beautiful tree adorn the community in a loved one’s name. It also gives a place to visit, when perhaps the memories associated with visiting the cemetery may be too painful.

The options available to those interested in planting a memorial tree are many. While it is common to plant a tree in the yard of the mourning family, there are many places, such as a park, synagogue or school where family members and friends could remember and reflect on this symbol of a life well lived. The family’s rabbi may even conduct a small service.

 

Debbie Taylor’s Passover Kugel Recipe

With Passover quickly approaching, here at Levinson’s we’ve been sharing recipes and family traditions. Here is a recipe from one of our “family members”, Debbie Taylor:
 matzahcartoon
Passover Matzoh Kugel Recipe
2 cups matzoh farfel, softened in boiling water for 15 minutes then drained well
4 large eggs, beaten
1 lb cottage cheese
1pt. sour cream
1 large can of crushed pineapple(with juice),optional
3/4 cup sugar.
Mix all ingredients
Pour into a greased 8×8 Pyrex dish
Bake at 350 for 1 hour

FAQ – Who Gets Funeral or Shiva Thank-you Notes?

One question we are often asked is who should formally be thanked after a funeral. It is important to note that the answer to this, as with most other things in Jewish tradition, often varies.

It is most common to write thank-you notes for donations or contributions that were made in a person’s memory, or to people who may have sent food to the family. It is also common to thank anyone who was exceptionally helpful in organizing shiva, etc. It is not expected that you should write a note to thank every person who attended the funeral.

However, in the more observant community it is NOT expected that thank-you notes be written, as that community views helping with shiva or making contributions in someone’s memory something that is a mitzvah – a commandment, not just a good deed – and, therefore, does not require thanks. Another part of the reasoning is they feel that grieving families should do just that – focus on their grief and not have to spend their time obligated to the duty of writing thank-you notes.