What is a Yahrzeit?

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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.

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.

 

 

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.

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

The Best Gift I Could Give My Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

We Remember Them: Finding Hope and Meaning After Loss – Columbia Seminar

 

Thursday, April 27 from 6:30-8:30pm

At The Meeting House: 5885 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia, MD, 21045

Gilchrist Grief Services, Jewish Community Services, Jewish Federation of Howard County and Sol Levinson & Bros, Inc. Funeral Home present a Community Seminar:

We Remember Them: Finding Hope and Meaning After Loss

Comforting

Grieving the death of a loved one is a complex journey; it is a unique process for every individual.

This seminar will provide attendees an opportunity to learn new coping skills, to better understand their feelings, and come away with a renewed sense of hope and meaning.

Program

6:30 – 6:45   Welcome

6:45 – 7:15   Creating New Purpose: Finding Hope and Meaning

7:15 – 7:25   Break and Refreshments

7:25 – 8:15   Breakout Sessions led by Gilchrist Grief Services and Jewish Community Services Bereavement Clinicians

8:15 – 8:30   We Remember Them

Free and Open to the Community – to reserve a space please register by April 19, 2017.

Call: 443-849-8251 or email gs_grief@gilchristservices.org

We Remember Them: Finding Hope and Meaning After Loss

Gilchrist Grief Services, Jewish Community Services and Sol Levinson & Bros, Inc. Funeral Home Present a Community Seminar:

 

We Remember Them:

Finding Hope and Meaning After Loss

ComfortingGrieving the death of a loved one is a complex journey; it is a unique process for every individual.

This seminar will provide attendees an opportunity to learn new coping skills, to better understand their feelings, and come away with a renewed sense of hope and meaning.

 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

6:30 P.M. – 8:30 P.M.

Sol Levinson & Bros., Inc. Funeral Home

8900 Reisterstown Road

Baltimore, MD  21208

 

Program

6:30 – 6:45   Welcome

6:45 – 7:15   Creating New Purpose: Finding Hope and Meaning

7:15 – 7:25   Break and Refreshments

7:25 – 8:15   Breakout Sessions led by Gilchrist Grief Services and Jewish Community Services Bereavement Clinicians

8:15 – 8:30   We Remember Them presented by Rabbi Dana Saroken, Beth El Congregation

 

Free and Open to the Community. To reserve a space please register by September 15, 2016

Call: 443-849-8251 or email gs_grief@gilchristservices.org

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Life Happens Series in Columbia

Life Happens

ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE FUTURE?
It can be hard to discuss what happens when you or a family member needs skilled nursing care or passes away. But taking time to explore and make decisions about these issues now will make it easier on your loved ones. Facing these difficult issues can provide everyone with peace of mind for years to come.

LifeBridge Health, Jewish Community Services, the Jewish Federation of Howard County and Sol Levinson & Bros. want to make the hard conversations about aging and planning for the future easier for you. Join us in Columbia this September for Life Happens, a free series of talks from experts who help navigate others through these topics.

Mark your calendar for these upcoming events. 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, or call 410-601-WELL (9355).

  • The Greatest Gift: Discussing and Planning for Future Financial, Medical and End-of Life Matters with Loved Ones. Get the much sought-after “Binder.” On Tues., Sept. 6, from 7 – 8:30 p.m. at Beth Shalom, 8070 Harriet Tubman Lane, Columbia, MD 21044
  • Jewish Perspecitves on Aging and End of Life. On Tues., Sept. 13, from 7 – 8:30 p.m. at Vantage House, 5400 Vantage Point Road, Columbia, MD 21044
  • Healthy Living for a Healthy Future. On Tues., Sept. 20, from 7 – 8:30 p.m. at the Jewish Federation of Howard County, 10630 Little Patuxent Parkway, Ste. 400, Columbia, MD 21044
  • The Jewish Funeral: Traditions and Options. On Tues., Sept. 27, from 7 – 8:30 p.m. at Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Services P.A., 5560 Sterrett Place, Ste. 204, Columbia, MD 21044