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.

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.

2018 Baltimore Sun Top Workplaces

TWP_Baltimore_2018_AWFor the 5th year in a row, Sol Levinson & Bros. is thrilled to have been nominated as one of Baltimore’s Top Workplaces! This honor is always especially meaningful to us, as it is a result of a survey of our employees.

 

You can check out the list of this year’s Top Workplaces here, but we thought we’d also share a few things our great team members have to say about working at Levinson’s:

 

• “Sol Levinson & Bros. has taken the time to get to know me, encouraging my creativity and involving me in projects where I can use my talents, learn and grow. I feel good about working for a company that not only provides an incredibly important service to the community, but also provides an atmosphere for employees to develop their skills and derive meaning from their work.”

“Even though I’m not a part of the Levinson family, I feel like I am. This is a wonderful place to work.”

• “I love the opportunity to help people get through a difficult time, and it’s nice to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”

• “At Levinson Bros, I work with great people, I’m listened to, and I make a good living doing a fascinating array of things on a daily basis.”

• “I have the chance to work with great, caring people, and we all genuinely care about the jobs we do. We are a tight-knit group, and we all do our best to deliver the highest level of service and professionalism to our families. I think it is our own strong support system that enables us to give the very best service to the community.”

• “The greatest thing about working here is being able to interact with and help families at a difficult time. And I love my co-workers.”

“What I love most about my job is that I work with people who share my passion for service, and compassion for the families we serve.”

• “I feel appreciated being a source of comfort and a friend to families during a difficult time.”

• “I find a great deal of fulfillment helping people make one of the most difficult times of their life a little easier.”

• “I love that my work allows me to help grieving families by treating them with compassion.”

• “I find satisfaction in being able to help families through a difficult time, especially since I have long-lasting relationships with many families from my upbringing in Pikesville.”

• “I enjoy the people I work with, and the feeling of being part of a business that gives back to the community.”

• “I am honored by the trust that people place in me to take care of their precious loved ones.”

“Sometimes it’s the little things that go a long way. I can help these people who are going through a terrible time right now, and it’s one less thing they have to worry about. It may not be much for me, but for them, it can mean a lot.”

• “I really enjoy taking care of the families we serve. I also like working for the Levinson Family because they take care of us and I find it enjoyable to come to work.”

• “I appreciate being able to help families at a difficult time in their lives, and I am grateful to the Levinsons for giving us the freedom to help families to the best of our ability.”

Are you a compassionate, service-oriented, detail-oriented and team-oriented individual, even if you come from a completely different background? We would love to hear more about you. Send a resume to humanresources@sollevinson.com and, if we don’t currently have an opening, we will be in touch when we find a fit.

Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate against otherwise qualified applicants on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation or gender, marital status, national origin, disability, veteran status, or any other basis protected under federal, state or local law.

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.

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.

What Happens to Social Media Accounts After Death?

Social Media has become as much a part of our everyday lives as eating and breathing. In today’s world, it is hard to find someone who hasn’t left at least one digital footprint behind for others to find online. Whether you use social media to catch up with friends, show off pictures of grandchildren, or keep informed of community events, it is an open door for other people to see what you are doing with your life. With that being said, have you ever thought of what will happen to your social media accounts in the wake of your death?

 

Luckily for those of us not so technically inclined, many social media applications have already thought of this task for us. Setting up a “legacy,” or a person you select to maintain your social media accounts, is a way that your pages can be memorialized at the time of your death, and let friends and family pay tribute to your everlasting memory. Your “legacy” can monitor the account and manage the features in your absence, making sure that friends and loved ones won’t receive insensitive messages, such as automatic birthday reminders after your death. People often forget that social media applications don’t know when a person has died, and these automated reminders and messages will continue to be sent unless the proper protocol is followed.

 

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Although this may be an unpleasant thing to think about, the reality is that your social media accounts are an extension of you, and should be managed by someone you trust (or closed out upon your passing). If for nothing more than letting long lost contacts know what has happened to you, the social media pages maintained by your “legacy” can be an important bereavement tool for loved ones who may find comfort in visiting your pages, posting tributes and reliving happy memories.

 

For more information on how to assign a “legacy” to maintain your Facebook account, click here. There are also many articles online where you can read more about the benefits of having a social media “legacy,” and how to set up a “legacy” for social media accounts other than Facebook.

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.

Jewish Views on the Afterlife

When we invited Rabbi Steven Schwartz, of Beth El Congregation, to present on the topic of Jewish Views on the Afterlife at the October 2017 “We Remember Them: Finding Hope and Meaning After Loss” program, we had no idea how many people would be interested in the topic. As it turned out, he had a large group of people gathered to learn more.

We followed up with Rabbi Schwartz to get a summary and he said “Many Jews don’t realize how much Judaism has to say about life after death. The tradition understands that God plants a soul inside of us when we come into the world, and when we die God takes our soul back. In that sense, the souls we carry during our earthly journeys are eternal, and will continue to exist even after our physical bodies are gone.” Rabbi Schwartz emphasized to us that “a core idea of Judaism is that we don’t understand death as being the end, but transitional, from one state of being to another state of being.”

After a little more research we came to the conclusion that, as with many aspects of Judaism, belief in what an afterlife looks like varies across the board. Below are a few websites that discuss the Jewish view on the afterlife in depth and from different perspectives. We at Levinson’s do not promote any particular belief, but we understand this is an important topic and people are searching for more information. We encourage you to talk to your Rabbi, do a little more reading and come to your own conclusions on this deep and meaningful subject.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/life-after-death/

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/afterlife-in-judaism

http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/afterlife

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2970/jewish/Do-Jews-Believe-in-an-Afterlife.htm