The Jewish Funeral and Advance Planning – Unraveling the Mysteries

Hadassah Eliza

The Jewish Funeral and Advance Planning

Presented by Beth El Congregation, The Soul Center and Sol Levinson & Bros.

Sunday, September 15, 2019
10am – 11:30am
The Soul Center at Beth El Congregation
8101 Park Heights Avenue
Pikesville, MD 21208

Join us for an educational presentation on The Jewish Funeral and Advance Planning, which will cover funeral traditions both ancient and modern. Ask any questions you want about this surprisingly detailed topic.

Speakers:

  • Rabbi Steven Schwartz – Introduction
  • Lisa Silverstein – Cemetery Administrator, Beth El Memorial Park
  • Eliza Feller – Director of Advance Planning and Funeral Director, Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc.

Lisa Silverstein will be available following the presentation to provide information on purchasing burial plots at Beth El Memorial Park. Light nosh will be served. RSVP to eliza@sollevinson.com by September 9th.

Life Happens – Jewish Perspectives on Planning for the Future: Leaving a Legacy

Life Happens

Jewish Perspectives on Planning for the Future:

Leaving a Legacy

Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019
6:30-8:30 p.m.
The Gordon Center for Performing Arts
Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC
3506 Gwynnbrook Ave.
Owings Mills, MD 21117

 


SPEAKERS:

Rabbi Daniel Rose, Director, Seasons Jewish Hospice Services
Deborah Hamburger, Esq., Volunteer Coordinator, Jewish Community Services
Donna Kane, M.A., Grief Counselor, Jewish Community Services

 

THE DISCUSSION WILL COVER:

  • Leaving a legacy: Articulating what is important to us and how we want to be remembered
  • Planning for financial, medical and end-of-life matters with loved ones
  • Creating a comprehensive binder for your family members that will provide them with all the useful information they will need in the event of your death or other emergency.

 

Attendance is free and open to the community. To register for this session, visit lifebridgehealth.org/lifehappens2019 For more information, contact Robyn Talesnik at 410-559-3606.

 

Sponsored by:

The Edward A. Myerberg Center

JCC of Greater Baltimore

Jewish Community Services (an Agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore)

LifeBridge Health

Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care

Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc

 

You Want Me to Talk About WHAT?

Savings Jars

Planning ahead is something that we are taught to do for most of our lives. We plan for all of life’s major milestones. But planning for a funeral…it is hard to even think about.

If you take a moment to consider all the benefits, you’ll soon understand why several hundred people a year come in to have this important conversation. Have you ever had to plan a funeral? If so, is that something you want your children to have to do for you? Do your children live out of town and have to arrange travel plans as well as handle details of the funeral?

To make this a little easier, we are going to start by answering a few common questions.

  • I don’t want to think about my own funeral, or even that of a loved one. Why can’t we just deal with this later?
  • What are the benefits of advance planning for a funeral?
  • I’m not sick or old. Why should I talk about this depressing subject now?
  • How does pre-payment work?
  • We were told we have to spend down a loved one’s assets for Medicaid. What do I do?
  • What actually happens at an Advance Planning discussion?

 

I don’t want to think about my own funeral, or even that of a loved one. Why can’t we just deal with this later?

Major life events require advanced planning, but it is easy (maybe even enjoyable) to plan for things that we are looking forward to. Of course, that is not the case for a funeral. No one looks forward to thinking about those details, but unfortunately this life cycle event requires planning just the same. Talking about death and funerals is never easy, but having this conversation ahead of time means that your family won’t have to do it while they also grieve.

 

Planning a Wedding

What are the benefits of advance planning for a funeral?

Advance planning comes with many emotional, financial, and practical benefits for your family. When you take care of the details yourself, it allows you to protect your family from the burden of guessing at your wishes or making decisions during a very difficult time. Does your family sometimes disagree on things? Having your wishes put down on paper can help to keep peace between family members and allows them to focus on themselves and the grieving process. Knowing whether you want to be dressed in the traditional white burial shroud or your favorite sweater isn’t what your family should have to be concerned about.

“This is the greatest gift I can give my family.”

In addition, one of the most obvious benefits of pre-paying is keeping your family from incurring the cost of the funeral. Funeral prices on average go up 2-4% a year. As someone recently said to us about pre-paying for their funeral, “It’s just common sense.” We’ve also heard “This is the greatest gift I can give my family.” We see that every day when families who have pre-paid just have to call us and schedule a funeral, and then go back to focusing on their family. For families that haven’t pre-paid, they instead need to come in and have one of the hardest conversations in the world, at one of the worst times in their life.

 

I’m not sick or old. Why should I talk about this depressing subject now?

“It’s just common sense.”

We would argue that this is exactly the time you should be coming in to have this conversation. There’s no hiding the fact that we have seen how unexpected life can be. Having met with families suffering a sudden loss who are left directionless, we cannot overemphasize the importance of having honest conversations (with yourself and your family). We know this is not a fun or enjoyable conversation. However, we are here to help you through this process and make the conversation as easy as possible. Our funeral directors who specialize in Advance Planning are all individuals who sincerely believe they are helping you help your family.

 

How does pre-payment work?

Selecting the kind of funeral that you want also means that you get to control the cost. Taking the emotional aspect out of planning means you can make practical decisions that work for you and your family. And when you pre-fund your funeral through our special guarantee program, it allows you to lock in all of Sol Levinson’s costs indefinitely. The cost of a funeral goes up about 2% a year, so when someone in their 60s pays for those funeral costs now, they can potentially save their family thousands of dollars.

 

We were told we have to spend down a loved one’s assets for Medicaid. What do I do?

Pre-paying funeral expenses is one of the main ways for an individual to spend down in order to apply for Medicaid. When you pre-pay their funeral, those funds are no longer counted as their assets, and the financial burden doesn’t fall to your family when the time comes. We have all the proper paperwork for properly protecting assets according to Medicaid regulations.

 

What actually happens at an Advance Planning discussion?

Couple Planning TripWe will meet with you at the funeral home in Pikesville, in your own home, at our Columbia Arrangement Center, or speak by phone to review important background information (such as statistical information for the death certificate) so your family does not have to search for information at the time of a funeral. Then, we go through all of the funeral options and advise you on any specific cemetery or clergy requirements, or options for alternative services if traditional burial is not in your plans, so you can decide what is best for you. We also talk about any specific requests you may have – a favorite song to be played, burial with your favorite fishing rod, your paintings to be displayed, a particular reading that you absolutely do NOT want read. All of this information is written into an Advanced Planning Guide and we keep a copy on file. This is a no-obligation meeting – no charge to meet with us, and no need to pay us if you aren’t ready to take that step.

 

The Advance Planning Guide holds all of your personalized information so your family can stay organized and have the resources they need in one centralized location. This guide will funeral-related items such as burial plot information, number of death certificates needed, family information for a death notice, etc., and also other important end of life matters. There is a section to keep contact information for attorneys, accountants, financial planners, keep track of usernames and passwords for online bill payments and social media, insurance and bank account information, and more. It also contains many resources for during and after the funeral such as information on our bereavement programs, unveiling information, tips on setting up a shiva house, and a checklist of places your family may need to notify.

 

In Conclusion…

We know that most people aren’t thinking about these things as they go about their daily life. However, as funeral directors, we constantly see the benefit of people planning ahead. It’s obvious everytime a daughter doesn’t have to come into the funeral home and select a casket because her mother has already done that very difficult part for her, or when a nephew doesn’t have to pay for his uncle’s funeral because he didn’t have any other family. We understand how difficult this conversation is, but we do everything in our power to make it as easy for you as we can.

 

Next Steps:

To talk to an Advance Planning specialist about any questions, or to learn more, please email PlanAhead@sollevinson.com or call 410-653-8900. To schedule an appointment, please see our Online Scheduler, call or email us. We are very flexible, so if you do not see a time listed on the online scheduler that works for you, please contact us directly.

Shomers – Guardians of the Soul

 

Have you ever wondered what the word Shomer means?

Or what is the purpose of the Jewish tradition of someone staying with a deceased at all times?

 

Shomer literally means “guardian,” and there are some very important reasons we still honor the tradition of having a shomer in our building.

 

“The body is understood to be the creation of G-d and the dwelling place of the soul. As such, a body must be accorded every respect, in life and in death.”

Our Jewish faith teaches us that our most important responsibility is to care for our loved ones after death. According to jhvonline.com, “the body is understood to be the creation of G-d and the dwelling place of the soul. As such, a body must be accorded every respect, in life and in death. In practice, this means that a dead body should not be left alone.”

 

Caring for the dead is one of the highest mitzvahs you can achieve – or a chesed shel emet – which jewishpress.com defines as a “kindness of truth (i.e. with pure intent), since one cannot be thanked by the recipient of the chesed.” Part of respecting and caring for the dead involves having a shomer, or “watcher” with the deceased, beginning at the time of death up until the time of the funeral.

 

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At Sol Levinson & Bros., we have several people we engage to serve as a shomer so that no deceased is ever left unattended. They stay in a dedicated room adjacent to where the deceased is, where they read psalms (“Tehillim,” in Hebrew). On occasion, a family may decide that they or some friends prefer to sit shomer for their own loved one, and we have accommodations for this as well.

 

 

Memorialization and Unexpected Deaths

 

**This is an incredibly emotionally-challenging topic, and we ask you to please use your judgment as to whether this is an appropriate article for you at your personal stage in the grief journey.**

 

The grief experience is complex even in the most straightforward circumstances. That already-difficult experience can be compounded by a sudden death. The process can be even harder yet on those who have lost someone due to choices their loved one made.

 

ConsolationSome of the challenges families face in circumstances of a sudden death are explained in this brief overview by a grief educator. The questions of how to best remember the life of someone who has died suddenly – and how that memorialization can also help the family heal – is an important one.

 

Please know that we at Sol Levinson & Bros. are here to be a resource, to help find ways to honor a life and a relationship in the way that best reflects your loved one, and to provide memorialization that meets your needs. If that means taking a little more time to carefully craft a service, or to provide the family a little time to gather together and regroup before being surrounded by community, we are here to help. If you are concerned about finding a sensitive way to share a loved one’s life story, we work with many members of the clergy who are compassionate and understanding.

How your loved one dies does not take away your need to grieve.

 

As funeral directors, we have found that the initial reaction of family members in these situations is often a survival instinct – to shut down and handle the final arrangements for the person as quickly and privately as possible. That may serve an immediate need, but sometimes that instinct makes the grief experience harder and more complicated in the long run. Just as with the importance of the stages of mourning in Jewish tradition to honor a loss and transition slowly back into the world, a funeral or memorialization is important to acknowledge and honor the loss a family is experiencing. As a recent Connecting Directors article noted, “When a loved one dies under tragic circumstances, some families choose to not have a funeral. They may be embarrassed and worried what others will think due to how their loved one died. Regardless of how someone died, there are, very often, memories worth commemorating.” (“NFDA Addresses Tragic Deaths in New Public Service Announcements.” NFDA, National Funeral Directors Association, 25 March 2019, www.nfda.org). How your loved one dies does not take away your need to grieve.

 

 


 

Resources

There are many articles that talk about and provide resources for various types of sudden loss and grief. Whether the death is due to an accident, overdose, suicide, heart attack or other causes, the family’s needs are incredibly important. Below is a list of some articles and videos that address these issues. There are also many local resources for survivors of different types of sudden death. Jewish Community Services is the main Jewish organization in Baltimore that can help direct people to bereavement support groups or other assistance, and you can reach them at 410-466-9200 or see their services on their Emotional Well Being page

 

**Warning: the videos and articles can be intense and may be upsetting for those who have experienced these types of loss. Please be sure you are with someone supportive when you watch or read them.**

 

Videos

The National Funeral Directors Association recently created some PSAs for those experiencing certain types of sudden, traumatic loss.

When a Parent Dies of an Overdose”

When a parent dies of an overdose, it can lead to strong emotions, especially among children. Having a funeral gives the family the opportunity to remember their loved one and the good times they had with other family members and friends. A funeral offers a time to gather, grieve and support one another.

 

“Remembering A Good Friend Who Made Bad Decisions”

We may not always agree with the life decisions made by our loved ones, especially if they involve illegal activity. A funeral provides the opportunity to come together and reflect on a loved one’s entire life history and remember the good times you had together.

 

Articles

 

Mourner’s Kaddish: Traditions and Alternatives

PrayerbookJewish mourning practices are designed as a series of steps that allow us to set time aside for grieving and then gradually move forward in a natural progression – shiva for seven days, sheloshim for the first 30 days, then the full year for a child mourning a parent, not to mention the yahrzeit and yizkor services – but why do we do this, and what do people do if they can’t make it to a minyan every day, or if they don’t find meaning or support in the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish?

 

To begin with, Shiva.com has a brief explainer of the various periods of mourning. As with all religious practices, we strongly encourage you to have an open conversation with your rabbi about your needs and the options, within your level of observance. Judaism is unusual in that it has a defined set of mourning practices in order to help the bereaved transition back into “normal” life, without feeling they have to jump back in after a few days. Many people find this series of steps gives them the freedom to fully grieve, without having to put on a false front to the rest of the world.

While most rabbis would encourage you to go to shul on a regular basis to be in community as you remember your loved one, perhaps you can find a way to incorporate your own spiritual practices into that process. Rabbi Dana Saroken, of Beth El Congregation, believes in the healing power power of reciting kaddish as a part of a community. She shared, “I always encourage people, even if the words don’t feel fluid or natural or they aren’t regular ‘shul-go-ers,’ to try attending a minyan on a regular basis. The Jewish tradition is that we recite kaddish for immediate family for a month for a child, sibling, or spouse and for 11 months (minus a day) for a parent. I have found that when people make time in their lives to channel their grief, especially among a community of people who understand what it feels like to experience love and loss – they have structure in their journey through grief and also tend to emerge from that time feeling more ‘ready’ to re-enter the world of the living when their period of mourning comes to an end. Whether it’s daily or weekly – creating a fixed time for connecting to G-d, to others, and to the presence and memory of our loved ones – is a precious opportunity and it matters.” Rabbi Saroken also shared that, “People can use the mourner’s kaddish to focus on the words that praise G-d (even in moments of loss) or they can spend their time bringing to mind a memory/memories of their loved one. Sometimes, I just think of the rhythmic recitation of the prayer as a heartbeat or an umbilical cord that continues to connect us to the person that we love.”

It is also helpful to understand exactly why these Jewish practices have come to be, before making a decision about your own practice. This article in the Forward makes some important points about What Judaism Teaches Us About Grief and Loss. And this post from the ritualwell website encourages people through the process of saying Kaddish, from the perspective of someone who initially struggled to even pronounce all the words.  

 

If saying Kaddish is not for you, it may be helpful to find other ways to incorporate the set periods of mourning into your routine, even if you choose not to attend synagogue to say Kaddish. If your family is only having shiva for a few days, you may still want to find some way to mark the full shiva period whether by spending your evenings at home with family sharing memories of the person, by making some of their favorite recipes, or by doing something like not listening to music or not watching tv for those seven days. If you are not attending a minyan but you’re looking for something a little more formal, Judaism encourages study of a text such as Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of Our Fathers), for the appropriate length of the mourning period, taking time to consciously think about your loved one before you begin.

If these more traditional approaches still do not meet your needs and you are looking for a way to honor the traits of someone you loved by creating a spiritual practice, the ritualwell website has a helpful post on this topic. Ritualwell also has an entire section dedicated to Mourning and Bereavement, where you can find poems, stories, ritual guidance and more. One suggestion would be to dedicate yourself to 30 days or a year (for a parent) of silent meditation each morning, dedicated to thoughts and memories of your loved one. Also, many people choose to begin a volunteer project for a cause their loved one supported, start an awareness project in their memory, or get involved in an organization that meant something to their loved one.

 

Whatever you choose, the most important thing is that it reflects your needs and supports you as you move through this journey.

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.