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maculated

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PostSubject: Funerals   Wed Feb 01, 2012 6:49 pm

Well, yesterday I went to my first funeral ever, and it happened to be a Jewish one for my husband's great-uncle. He and I ended up discussing the merits of the different traditions and I thought it would be neat to talk about.

First: shoveling the dirt on the coffin yourself. Woo. I didn't know this great-uncle, but I have the ability to be so empathic with people that I was feeling the loss for his kids and the sound of that first bit of soil landing on coffin and the hollow, "Whumpf." I got transported to when my parents die, or G-d forbid, my husband, and his aging parents, and I cannot imagine keeping it together, anticipating the sound. The rabbi was on the other side of the line, pretty much burying the casket himself (kind of funny, because he was really going at it - maybe so that it was he and not the gravediggers that would cover everything). I love the idea of being forced to "put him to bed" yourself, the finality of it. But that sound . . .

And then there's the viewing/closed casket thing. I told my husband that I definitely wanted a good old Irish wake where people got drunk after my funeral and had fun. (Sorry, uber traditionalists - just as it's likely I am halachically Jewish without conversion, I am not about to remake myself into someone who doesn't have other traditions if they don't really conflict. I am a "celebrate" life kind of person and Irish people do that fantastically when it comes to death.) He was like, "Oh no we are not." But he thought I meant open casket thing. I don't like that, but at the same time, I will say that when I've suffered sudden loss, it helped to accept that it happened by seeing the corpse. While I understand why Jews don't do that (and trust me, I was glad to have a closed casket), I also understand why it's in other traditions.

Just thoughts.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Wed Feb 01, 2012 9:56 pm

I have yet to go to a Jewish funeral (thought I have been to more than enough non-Jewish funerals, unfortunately) so I have never heard that sound. I imagine it's something that could really stay with you for a long time, especially if it's someone close like a parent.

I have never liked the open casket thing. Once, many years ago a childhood friend of mine committed suicide. They had an open casket. My cousin (who was much closer to the friend) about lost it when she walked into the room. She composed herself alright but I just think it's too much. When I go to the funeral of someone I knew but to whom I wasn't related, I don't walk up to the casket. If it's family I walk up but I barely look. It does not make me feel better to see them dead and made up like their about to be on the cover of a magazine.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Wed Feb 01, 2012 11:09 pm

I only attended a Jewish burial for the first time last year. I had attended quite a few memorial services and shiva minyan services, but since traditional Jewish law requires a rather immediate burial, it is usually in the middle of a weekday with little advance notice, when it is not easy to get off from work. And the burial sites for people from my minyan have tended to be at cemeteries that are a good 45 minute drive away.

The one I went to was for a member of the "host synagogue" where my lay-led minyan had met for over 25 years, before "merging" with the remnant of the shul and moving to another building. The deceased was one of the few members of that shul who had always greeted me warmly. I didn't know his widow well because unlike her husband, she was kind of anti-social and was not at all interested in attending services. Just a couple of months before he died, I purposely had sat at a table with this man and his wife at a shul dinner, just to be friendly even if I preferred chatting with closer friends. But then when he died, I was so glad that I had made that effort to be nice. Since they had no relatives, I took off a couple of hours from work to attend the burial because there was some concern that there might not be a minyan for her to say Kaddish. There were about 20 people in attendance including a woman who came late and that no one knew who turned out to be a neighbor who had taken several buses for two hours in order to get to the gravesite. (Someone gave her a ride back.)

One of the minyan members who is a rabbi and a hospital chaplain led the service. It reminded me that even if my minyan is somewhat anti-clerical (despite having a few members who are rabbis, and having had a few more in the past), it sure is good to have people with the training and experience to do that kind of thing well when a member of the congregation has that kind of need. I too felt that the act of having the people in attendance help to shovel the dirt over the coffin is a very powerful ritual. It certainly makes it very clear that the deceased is really dead. I like that Judaism has many rituals that are physical, not just prayers.

The aspect of Jewish mourning that I think is a great tradition is the shiva minyan. The requirement for a minimum number of other Jews to be present for the mourner to say Kaddish pushes the community to provide that real support---not just cards and flowers, but physically being there. My minyan usually does this in the traditional way: daily services right at the home of the mourners. Also because tradition dictates that the mourners not do everyday activities, the community knows that it needs to supply basic needs like meals. I have seen the outpouring of support from a Jewish community be a true source of comfort to a mourner. I find it reassuring to see my minyan rally to the support of a member in need because I know that they will be there if I should need it (and we benefited from minyan help first hand many years ago when I was hospitalized for a week due a ruptured appendix).
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Thu Feb 02, 2012 1:44 am

I have been to a shiva minyan but I wouldn't say it was very traditional. I had thought about going to the burial but decided against it.
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Bee

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Thu Feb 02, 2012 2:12 am

I have only been to one funeral and that was my best friend's in 2001...horrible horrible year. It was an open casket and i couldnt stand up or even fathom walking up to it like my other friends did. The hardest part was when they threw dirt on her casket at the cemetary. That made me loose it because i felt she couldnt breath and how dare they put her in the earth I just couldnt deal with that at all...still cant. The feeling that her body was lying in darkness and alone was too much for me. I did not expect Jewish funerals to be similiar, was hoping reallythat it wasn't.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Thu Feb 02, 2012 10:46 pm

A shiva minyan is just gathering for a regular weekday prayer service (Shacharit, Mincha, or Ma'ariv, depending on the time of day) traditionally held at the home of the deceased with a few minor changes in the liturgy which are usually noted in any siddur. For Monday and Thursday mornings a Torah reading is done as is usual for those days. The important thing is to have a "minyan" (ten Jews [males for Orthodox]) so that the mourner may recite the Mourner's Kaddish at the appropriate time during the service.

Here is a moving account of how general shiva customs helped a non-observant man deal with the death of his father:
Mainstream Mourner's Perspective
Because he was not observant, it doesn't sound like there were prayer services at his home, but his friends still supported him in a Jewish way.

The website below gives lots of good information and notes that different Jews will mourn in different ways depending on their religious observance and personal wishes.
Sitting shiva customs

I used to be reluctant to make a shiva visit because I didn't know what to do, and before I converted I didn't count towards a minyan (even in a non-Orthodox home). So I used to send my husband to represent our family and I justified my hanging back by saying that someone needed to take care of our kids. But I now think I should have gone, switching days with my husband, so that we could go on different days while the other took care of childcare responsibilities. I have seen the gratitude of the mourners who felt so much better that in their time of grief they were surrounded by friends. I now try hard to fit shiva calls into my schedule because I know it is appreciated.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Tue Feb 07, 2012 1:46 pm

While there is a no "open casket" policy in Judaism, that does not mean that you cannot see the body before it's buried. As far as I know, it's not prohibited for a family member to participate in the washing and shrouding of the body. There's also the possibility of watching the shrouding. And since the body cannot be left unattended until it's buried, you can sit in attendance with it (which, actually, is the point of an old-fashioned wake). The only difference is that the body will be shrouded or in a closed coffin, not in an open coffin.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Tue Feb 07, 2012 3:47 pm

Ah yes, the Chevra Kadisha Thanks for bringing that up, Mychal.

My minyan is a member of the Progressive Chevra Kadisha which is a consortium of two Reform shuls, a Reconstructionist shul, a chavurah, and my Conservative lay-led minyan. It is one of very few non-Orthodox chevra kadisha groups. I know several of the active members of the PCK and have been invited to join---maybe something I will do when my kids are grown. I'm a bit squeamish about the idea of being around a dead body, but I recognize that it is a service needed by the community that is best served by members within the community itself. Several years ago when a member of our minyan died, my husband helped by doing one of the middle of the night duties of guarding of the body and reading Psalms, although he is not member of the PCK.

Here are two articles about a conference last year on Jewish burial that some of my friends organized:
The Most Noble Mitzvah (One reason for the title is that the dead person obviously can never repay the favor.) and
Tahara: Respect for the dead and comfort for the living
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Tue Feb 07, 2012 4:50 pm

I think Western society has trouble handling death because we are so divorced from the process by funeral homes.

From everything I've read, people who have been to Western/Christian funeral and Jewish funerals prefer Jewish funerals. Even though the body is buried quickly, the way it is handled, the burial of the body by the family, etc. gives people a better sense of closure and also allow people to face their own mortality better. Some people say that the West's habit of dragging out funerals for days and making the corpse look like it's still alive needlessly prolongs the suffering of the grieving, and the lack of hands-on participation (through washing and shrouding the body, or by sitting with it, or by burying it) actually leaves the mourners feeling incomplete. It denies them a chance to really feel like they're doing one last act of love for their loved one.
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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Tue Feb 07, 2012 5:35 pm

For me personally I have issue with Christians funerals in particular. It does not make me feel better when someone goes on and on about how the death of someone I loved was a "blessing" because Jesus is waiting for them. But it's comforting for much of my family so it serves it's purpose.
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Tue Feb 07, 2012 7:08 pm

I don't mind that (although I've not been to a funeral since I decided to convert), because there are times when I do think it's a relief for someone to go on. My grandfather was one of those--he was sick for a long time and was just basically waiting to die for a couple of years.

Worse, he had gotten to the point that he couldn't do anything that he liked to do. He was always a man who did something, and it bothered me that he couldn't do anything. He hated sitting in a chair and doing nothing but watching old Westerns all day. He had been a truck driver for 30 years; he was used to going and doing and seeing.

So it was a relief when he finally went; he was ready and everyone else was prepared. I've heard some rabbis say that old age--and the accompanying decline--is a "gift" from God to prepare us and our families for the inevitable parting. Worse off are people who do not get a warning beforehand to put their affairs in order.

That being said, my mother irritated me prior to my grandfather's death. He had never been a church-going man, but he had always been a good man and did right by people and his family. But while he was in the hospital, my mother proselytized him, wanting him to believe in Jesus, and she made what I consider threats. "You want to go to heaven and see your Mama and your brother and your sister, don't you? You have to believe in Jesus if you want to go to heaven." Even though I was a church-going Episcopalian at the time, it irritated me.

I don't know if he really believed or not, but I do know he genuinely wanted to be reunited with his family after death, so even if he didn't believe, he tried to believe. I just hope he felt peaceful and confident instead of worrying because my mother made him think he wasn't going to heaven.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Tue Feb 07, 2012 9:12 pm

Mychal wrote:
I don't mind that (although I've not been to a funeral since I decided to convert), because there are times when I do think it's a relief for someone to go on. My grandfather was one of those--he was sick for a long time and was just basically waiting to die for a couple of years.


I would agree with you there. However, I'm talking about funerals for people who are not old and are dying from things like cancer. Now, I would imagine many Christian funerals would not go that way I have experienced. But when the Pastor is a hardcore fundamentalist they tend to say things I don't find at all comforting. Actually, one of them refered to my Uncle's death as a miracle. It was a miracle because Jesus promised to be with us (humans) when we die and of course he was there with my uncle at death. I personally do not find leukemia to be a miracle. This person quit his position so hopefully I will never have to sit through another funeral with him.

You mention proselytizing your Grandmother and that's one of the issuse I have had. Many of the funerals I have attended end up almost like a Baptist alter call. I find it inapproriate and very uncomfortable. I have felt that way since long before I ever considerd converting.

Maybe I go to some weird funerals?
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: Funerals   Wed Feb 08, 2012 3:55 pm

I've not been to a funeral where the person was not older and in poor health, so I don't know what I would hear if they weren't; I do live in the Bible belt.

I was relieved--after doing some internet searching yesterday--that you can say Kaddish for someone who is not a Jew. I remembered my grandfather on his Yartzeit, but I didn't actually say Kaddish, because I wasn't sure about that. Next year I will.

I find it more comforting knowing that, in Judaism, the end is not the end; people praying for you on earth can still help your soul. Catholicism has a similar idea--in that you can pray people out of Purgatory--but Protestant Christianity is not nearly so forgiving; once you're dead, you're doomed.
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