Why do We Place Earth in the Grave?

Have you ever wondered why it is Jewish tradition to fill in the graves of our loved ones? To some it may seem like a painful process and, truthfully, it is. But our Jewish faith teaches us to care for one another, and that doesn’t stop after death. In fact, the guiding Jewish principal after someone dies is “Kavod HaMet” or honoring the dead. According to chabad.org, “Burial is the last physical act of kindness that we do for our departed loved ones. We have cared for them in their lifetimes, and now we care for them in their passing by ensuring they have a proper Jewish burial.”  Many rabbis even say that it is the highest mitzvah that you can do, as it is truly selfless, since you know that the deceased will never be able to repay you for this act of kindness.

The more traditional Jewish burials involve filling the grave entirely with large shovels, while Reform or Conservative burials may involve ceremonial earth with small hand shovels. Some families have a tradition somewhere in between that requires ensuring the top of the casket is covered before departing the cemetery. You may have noticed some people using the back of the shovel for at least one of the scoops. Using the back of the shovel shows our reluctance in burying our loved one, that we are differentiating the act from a standard use of a shovel, and that it is not an easy task. Finally, as we place the earth into the grave, we might hear the rabbi recite the words Al mekomo yavo veshalom (for a man) or Al mekomah tavo veshalom (for a woman). This translates to may ________ go to his/her place in peace.

It is so important to care for each other in death as we care for each other in life. The tradition of burying our own is one of healing, and the beginning of a long process of mourning our loved ones. It symbolizes closure, allowing us to move forward into the shiva period and navigate a new world without the deceased. Knowing that we did everything we could to help our loved one transition on to what is next hopefully brings at least a small feeling of comfort.  

Veterans’ Funeral and Burial Benefits

Did you know that there are several benefits that veterans of the United States military are entitled to for their burials? There are both ceremonial and financial benefits available to any veterans that have served our country and were honorably discharged.

You may have attended a funeral that had a flag draped over the casket, heard the moving sounds of a bugler playing Taps at the cemetery, and then witnessed the flag being folded and presented to a mourner on behalf of our grateful country. It can be a powerful and meaningful moment in what is already a very emotional experience.

If you wish have military honors at your own or a loved one’s funeral, all you need to provide to your funeral director is what is known as form DD-214. This form states that the veteran has been honorably discharged from his or her service and is eligible for an honor guard to be present at the funeral. There is no charge for this service and it is something that Levinson’s will coordinate on your behalf with the United States military. If you have already pre-planned your funeral with Levinson’s, we can keep this document on file to present at the time of burial. If you do not have access to the DD-214, you can obtain one by going to this web site or by contacting the National Personnel Records Center at 314-801-0800.

There are also several financial benefits that are provided to veterans for their burials. For example, every veteran who has been honorably discharged (and their spouse) is entitled to a grave at a state veterans cemetery at no charge. The veteran is also entitled to a free lining in the grave, a grave marker, and the opening and closing of the grave at no charge (spouses of veterans are entitled to extreme discounts for these items). Burial at a veterans cemetery does sometimes entail a little bit of a wait for interment and our funeral directors can provide you some information on that. Families of veterans can be reimbursed (up to a certain amount) for the cost of a grave at another cemetery, as well as for some funeral expenses. These amounts vary and to receive them the family must apply directly to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs after the veteran’s death by going to their website or calling 1-800-827-1000.

Membership in Jewish War Veterans of America (JWV) also provides benefits. Members of JWV will provide a ceremony (upon request) that involves standing at attention in front of a casket in our chapel, and they will also serve as honorary pallbearers. According to jvw.org “The Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America is an American Jewish veterans’ organization created in 1896 by Civil War veterans to prove that Jews have proudly served this country since the Revolutionary Era.” The JWV works to help preserve veterans’ healthcare, as well as benefits for their caregivers, and can even help to provide service dogs to veterans in need. For more information about how to join or donate to the JWV please visit their website.

For more information about veterans’ benefits related to the funeral, please give us a call or schedule a time to sit down and speak with one of our funeral directors.

The Levinson’s Difference

Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Directors.

Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Directors.

Most people know that at Sol Levinson & Bros. we pride ourselves on our high level of service while tending to people in our care. People sometimes wonder what makes Levinson’s so different than other funeral homes, and even other businesses in general.

Sol Levinson & Bros. has been family owned and operated for more than 125 years, making us one of the oldest family-owned businesses in Baltimore. It is an exceptional and unusual legacy. Thus far, we have had five generations of the Levinson family privileged to serve Baltimore and the surrounding communities. Since our beginning in the 1880s when Max Levinson began his funeral transportation service (which later became our very first funeral home) we have built our business on strong family values which we hope are reflected in how well we are able to assist your family. Our long-standing and close relationships with area rabbis, synagogues, cemeteries and community organizations allow us to excel at providing service to the families we serve. We believe that having a robust family commitment is what builds a strong community, and Levinson’s is honored to be an integral part of the city we call home.  

Mission Statement: Providing exceptional funeral care to our community from generation to generation through compassion, education, and personalization.

Being a family-owned business allows us a great deal of flexibility when it comes to helping others. We are able to handle each family’s needs with a personal touch, accommodating everything from the most traditional funeral to the most personalized alternative services a family would like. As funeral directors, our role is to provide information, options, and experience in order to help families as much as possible. Our flexibility as a business also allows us to provide innovative programming and outreach, such as bereavement support groups, educational series’ on topics such as healthy living or living wills, bereavement programs in partnership with local hospice organizations, special programs on topics such as the Opioid Epidemic, and our Levinson’s Volunteer Initiative where we provide social action projects at local festivals and fairs.

The Levinson’s difference extends to the staff, as well. No matter what time of the day or night, when you call Levinson’s you will always be greeted by a warm, caring, and knowledgeable member of our staff, whereas most other funeral homes and businesses turn their phones over to an answering service after hours. At Levinson’s we have many employees that have been here for ten years or longer, and we try our hardest to ensure that there is continuity of service and relationships, even when that spans decades. If you have dealt with a specific funeral director in the past, we try to make sure you deal with that person again whenever possible. Finally, we have extensive training for our staff, to ensure they know how to handle all of the logistics that go into planning a funeral, and we hire people we know to be warm and compassionate in addition to being detail-oriented.

We know a lot of the families that we work with, and they have been allowing us to serve them for years; but even for the families who are not familiar with us, we pride ourselves on making everyone feel like a part of our family, and not just a client. Sol Levinson & Bros. is honored to have spent the past 125 years providing families with the personalized care that they need and deserve, and we look forward to doing so for many years to come. We want every family we serve to feel as comfortable as they can during one of the most difficult parts of life. We understand that planning the funeral of a loved one is not an easy thing to do, but we want to make it as easy on families as possible. Thank you for entrusting us with this vital service to the community.

“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.

Introducing the new Levinson’s Pre-Planning Guide.

Introducing the new Levinson’s Pre-Planning Guide.

 

Completed Guide

This comprehensive resource contains detailed information about the 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 you would like us to put together a Pre-Planning Guide reflecting your selections, please give us a call to come in to meet with one of our funeral directors in our Pikesville or Columbia locations. We will review all the funeral options with you, provide you with all the information you may need, and give you your personalized copy of the Guide.

Planning ahead for yourself or a loved one is beneficial because it allows you to:

  • Ensure your peace of mind that your wishes will be followed
  • Relieve the burden on your family, to ease their financial and decision-making obligations
  • Control financial costs – by pre-funding today, you can prevent the financial burden on those closest to you and be assured that the money will be there to help cover tomorrow’s funeral costs
  • Reduce assets prior to applying for Medicaid (“Spend-down”)

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.

 

Life Happens – A free educational series on healthy living, caring for our loved ones and planning for the future

Attendance is free and open to the community. To register for any or all of these Life Happens sessions, go to www.lifebridgehealth.org/communityevents, email Gail Wolven at gwolven@lifebridgehealth.org or call 866-404 DOCS (3627).

Jewish Genealogy

Genealogical research is pretty popular these days. How far back have you traced your family tree? There are a few resources you may not have heard of within the Baltimore/Maryland Jewish community to help you along the way:

The Jewish Museum of Maryland offers the most comprehensive on-line listing of individuals buried in Baltimore’s Jewish cemeteries. The list can be viewed and searched on the museum’s website.

• The Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland has lists of local and national links and resources, and also hosts a variety of programs.

Are there any other resources you have found helpful?