Death and Funerals

When a loved one dies, families and friends need comfort and support. There are often many decisions to be made amidst a time of emotional and spiritual needs. Our clergy are here to be present the entire time a loved one’s death approaches, as you are faced with decisions about funeral arrangements or hospice care, and in the days, weeks, and months of mourning that follow.

There are two funeral homes that provide Jewish funeral services: Dresslers’ Jewish Funeral Care and H.M. Patterson & Son Funeral Directors.

When a Death Occurs


When a death occurs, a funeral home will help you with the immediate arrangements. We encourage you to notify The Temple by calling 404.873.1731, so we can support you during this time.

During business hours, ask for Dianne Ratowsky, Rabbi Berg’s assistant. If The Temple is closed, select option #3 when calling for the clergy emergency pager. One of our clergy will return your call as soon as possible.

If you have already made arrangements with either Patterson’s or Dressler’s funeral homes, they will also help you in contacting The Temple clergy and scheduling the funeral. Please do not schedule a funeral service without calling The Temple to ensure that one of the clergy will be available at the proposed time.

Funeral Arrangements


In Jewish tradition, the funeral is typically scheduled for the earliest possible time that will allow for all the arrangements to be made and for family and friends to be present. Burial is not permitted on Shabbat or most Jewish holidays.

In addition to helping you with scheduling the funeral, one of the clergy will arrange a time to meet with your family to discuss the funeral service, whether you will be observing shiva (the traditional seven-day mourning period), and any special needs or questions you may have.

Preparation for Burial (Taharah)


The traditional washing and shrouding of the deceased’s body is called taharah. This is customarily done by a chevrah kadishah, a group of Jews who have been trained in the rituals of preparing a body for burial. The body is washed and wrapped in simple white linen shrouds and, if the family chooses, a tallit (prayer shawl). While we at The Temple do not have a chevrah kadishah, there are many such groups in the community and the funeral home can help with making arrangements.

Generally speaking, Jewish custom is not to embalm the body except as necessary for transportation to another city or country. We also, out of respect for the deceased, do not have any public viewing as part of the funeral service.

Funeral Service


There are two parts to the funeral: a service and the internment. The service consists of Psalms and other liturgical readings, remembering the deceased through a eulogy, and the chanting of El Malei Rachamim, which is a prayer for the person who has died. In some cases, family members or friends may want to speak at the funeral service. This should be discussed beforehand in the meeting with the rabbi.

The second part of the funeral service is the internment. The coffin is lowered into the grave and the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited. This prayer does not mention death or the person who has died, but praises God as the source of life and peace. Customarily family and friends come forward after the Mourner’s Kaddish to place earth over the coffin, and then the service is concluded and mourners may depart.

For the majority of funerals, the entire service is held graveside. However, it is also possible to have the first part of the funeral at a funeral home or The Temple. As part of making the funeral arrangements, the funeral home and The Temple clergy will help to guide you through this decision.

Keriah


Keriah refers to the rending of one’s garment after learning of a loved one’s death. As far back as biblical times, Jews have made a tear in their garment as a physical symbol of their grief. Today, we tear a black ribbon as this sign of mourning. Immediately prior to the funeral, the clergy will invite the immediate mourners (spouse, parents, children, and siblings) to pin a black ribbon on their clothing and tear it.

Washing Hands


There is often a container of water and a washing cup available as mourners leave the cemetery. Traditionally, those who attend a funeral wash their hands as a symbolic purification and transition out of the cemetery.

Mourning Customs


Jewish tradition outlines a very specific timeline for mourning after a loved one’s death. The rituals of mourning are designed to assist one through the grieving process. We encourage you to consult with your Temple clergy as you decide in what ways you would like to observe these mourning customs. Know that there is not one “right” way to follow these rituals; each family observes in different ways depending upon their Jewish practice and family circumstances.

Shiva


Shiva refers to the first seven days of mourning. As soon as the family returns to their home or where they will be sitting shiva, they light the memorial candle that will burn for seven days. The immediate mourners (spouse, parents, siblings, children) sit on low stools and do not engage in work or chores. Extended family and friends generally bring food so that the mourners will not have to cook.

Some families choose to cover the mirrors in the house as a reminder that external appearances do not matter during this time, and instead the family is focused on mourning. In the evening, there may be a shiva minyan (a brief worship service) in which El Malei Rachamim and the Mourner’s Kaddish would be said. One does not sit shiva on Shabbat or on holidays. In the event that a funeral or shiva coincides with a holiday, The Temple clergy will help to guide you as to which days are available for sitting shiva.

The traditional length of shiva is seven days, but the practice in Reform Jewish communities varies. Some families choose to sit shiva for one, two, or three evenings, others for a longer period of time and some not at all. One of the rabbis or cantor can be available to lead a minyan on the evenings the family is sitting shiva. This is coordinated during the pre-funeral meeting with one of the clergy.

Visiting a House of Mourning


It is a mitzvah (commandment) to honor someone who has died and to console those who are in mourning. By visiting someone who is sitting shiva, we do both. Traditionally when visiting a home in which mourners are sitting shiva, it is not necessary to ring the doorbell or for the mourners to greet visitors. Instead, visitors should come in and wait for the mourner to speak to them first.

Generally it is a good idea to follow the mourner’s conversation; if they want to be silent, remain silent, and if they want to talk about something, join with them. The most important part is to be present and show support. It is also customary to send or bring food to the house of mourning so that the mourners do not need to prepare food.

Sheloshim


This is the period of mourning for the first thirty days after a funeral. It is the custom of The Temple to publicly recite the names of those who have died in the past thirty days before the Mourner’s Kaddish. Sheloshim is a time to ease out of the intense mourning of shiva, to return to work and start to resume everyday activities while still adjusting to the pain of loss.

Yahrzeit


Yahrzeit refers to the anniversary of someone’s death. The yahrzeit of a loved one is commemorated with the lighting of a memorial candle at home and reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish at worship services. When a Temple member or relative passes away, his or her name is automatically added to our database. When the yahrzeit date approaches, a reminder will be sent. To have the name read aloud, please call The Temple office. Names on the memorial plaques are automatically read aloud.

Unveilings


After a gravestone is placed, it is covered with a cloth. The unveiling is a ceremony customarily held within the first year of mourning. During an unveiling ceremony, the cloth is removed, family and friends who are present share memories or brief eulogies, and the Mourner’s Kaddish is recited. Some follow the custom of placing a small pebble or stone on the grave marker after visiting. This comes from the biblical practice of using heaps of stones as grave markers and also signals the family’s presence.

While our Temple clergy are available to officiate at unveiling ceremonies, it is not necessary to have clergy present. We are happy to assist you in preparing readings or a ceremony to lead on your own if you would prefer.

Prearrangements


We know that some of our members choose to make prearrangements for their funerals. If you are interested in meeting with one of our clergy to discuss these arrangements, please call Dianne Ratowsky at 404.873.1731.

Caring at The Temple

Caring at The Temple is our way of involving all of our members in the pastoral care of the community. In addition to the involvement of our clergy, members of The Temple reach out to fellow congregants during times of hardship.

One service we do is the delivery of chicken soup to those who are bereaved. If you would like us to deliver soup to you following the loss of a loved one, or know somebody who is in such need, please let us know by contacting Rabbi Spinrad at 404.873.1731.

 

 

1589 Peachtree Street NE | Atlanta, GA 30309 | t 404-873-1731 | A Reform Synagogue | Affiliated with The Union for Reform Judaism