What is a Yahrzeit?

Yahrtzeit_candle

While many people find meaning in marking the anniversary of someone’s death, Judaism is unique in having rituals for this commemoration, from lighting a candle to reciting Mourner’s Kaddish. But are those the only ways to observe a yahrzeit? Where did these rituals begin, and why? Check out the resources and writings we found:

 

 

Whatever type of observance you choose, we hope you will find a ritual which is meaningful to you and serves to make your loved ones’ memories be a blessing.

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.

 

PrayerBookStudyResized

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.

 

 

Social Security Benefits: Ask the Expert Luncheon

Tim Barnaba photo

Confused by Social Security benefits? Tim Barnaba -adjunct professor and teacher of “Understanding Medicare & Social Security” at CCBC – will help us understand the options.

Tuesday, April 9th, 12pm
David Chu’s China Bistro
7105 Reisterstown Road

Lunch is free, but registration is required by April 2 to AskTheExpert@sollevinson.com or 410-653-8900. Kosher dietary rules observed.

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.

Who Typically Serves as a Pallbearer?

In Jewish tradition, immediate mourners (spouse, children, siblings) typically do not serve as pallbearers, but in-laws, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins, close family friends, et cetera, may serve. Your level of observance will determine whether men and women, or just men, can serve as pallbearers. Please ask your rabbi if you have questions.
For services in our chapel, we will call pallbearers by name and give them instructions at the end of the service (at graveside services they are not called by name, they meet at the hearse to receive instructions).
Active pallbearers (5-10 people) physically lift and carry the casket at the funeral home and again at the cemetery, and must be able to lift. For services in our chapel you may also have honorary pallbearers. If you have more than 10 people to be pallbearers, or people unable to physically lift, you may make them honorary pallbearers and they will stand in the aisle of the chapel at the end of the service in the funeral home. Fraternal groups or charitable guilds should be acknowledged as honorary pallbearers.

Life Happens: Jewish Perspectives on Aging and Planning for the Future

Life HappensThe Gordon Center for the Performing Arts
3506 Gwynnbrook Avenue, Owings Mills, MD, 21117
Tuesday, Oct. 30
6:30-8:30 p.m.

SPEAKERS:

Rabbi Dana Saroken, Beth El Congregation
Deborah Hamburger, Esq., Volunteer Coordinator, Jewish Community Services

THE DISCUSSION WILL COVER:
Jewish perspectives on aging and end of life.
Planning for financial, medical and end-of-life matters with loved ones.

Learn how to create 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/lifehappens or call 410-601-WELL.

This event is co-sponsored by Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc., Jewish Community Services, the Jewish Community Center of Baltimore, Lifebridge Health, Edward A. Myerberg Center, and North Oaks.

Understanding Addiction and Recovery – Free 2-Part Series

stonesinwaterPart 1: The Disease of Addiction

Weinberg Park Heights JCC
5700 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD, 21215
Tuesday, October 9

7:00 – 9:00pm

What causes addiction? Why is the battle so much tougher for some than for others?

 

Keynote: Understanding the Disease of Addiction
Richard Haber, MD, Medical Director
Jewish Community Services Outpatient Mental Health Center
Breakout Sessions:

  • Increasing Resiliency in Our Children
    Larry Ziffer, MSW, Charles Crane Family Foundation and Susan Kurlander, MEd, Jewish Community Services
  • The Unique Challenges of the Orthodox Family
    Aviva Weisbord, PhD, Shemesh and Howard Reznick, LCSW-C, Jewish Community Services
  • How Can We Help the Addict We Love?
    James Ryan, MA
    Ashley Addiction Treatment

Narcan overdose response training to follow presentation.

Free and open to the community. Attend one or both programs (part 2 on October 23). Registration preferred at jcsbalt.org/AddictionPrograms or to 410-466-9200.

Co-sponsors: Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc., Jewish Community Services – Baltimore, Baltimore Board of Rabbis, Edward A. Myerberg Center, Jmore.

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Part 2: Addiction Treatment Options

Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC
3506 Gwynnbrook Avenue, Owings Mills, MD, 21117
Tuesday, October 23

7:00 – 9:00pm

 

Keynote: “The Range of Treatment Options and Who Does Best Where”
Marc Fishman, M.D.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Panel: Individuals discuss their paths to recovery.

Narcan overdose response training to follow presentation.

Free and open to the community. Attend one or both programs (part 2 on October 23). Registration preferred at jcsbalt.org/AddictionPrograms or to 410-466-9200.

Co-sponsors: Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc., Jewish Community Services – Baltimore, Baltimore Board of Rabbis, Edward A. Myerberg Center, Jmore.

Family Caregiver Resources

StockSnap_28QNKCAHLMAccording to the National Alliance for Caregiving, nearly 72% of families are providing care for adults who are 50 or older. That number will continue to grow as our baby boomer generation ages. Being a caregiver can be a daunting undertaking, but here is an article from Hadassah about the importance of caregivers taking care of themselves. There has even been publicity recently about Millenials becoming caregivers.

Here are some links to some resources that we hope you will find helpful:

Medicaid Spend-down: Ask the Expert Luncheon

  • What is Medicaid spend-down?
  • Is it for me?
  • How do I spend down my assets in an acceptable way?

Join us to hear from Jason Frank, Esq., professor of Elder Law at University of Baltimore Law School, Towson University, The Johns Hopkins University, the MSBA Continuing Education Program, and the University of Maryland School of Law.

Eliza Feller, Levinson’s Pre-Planning Manager, will briefly discuss the benefits of the Levinson’s Pre-Planning Guide.

Tuesday, June 12
12-1pm
Eggspectation
10209 Grand Central Ave #126, Owings Mills

A vegetarian/fish meal will be served. No fee, but attendance is by reservation only.

Space is limited. RSVP by Friday, June 8 to Sol Levinson & Bros. via 410-653-8900 or AskTheExpert@sollevinson.com