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Time For Dignity


Washington Jewish Week, August 3, 2000


Time For Dignity


In light of the closure of two local facilities that handle Jewish funerals, there are calls for the Jewish community to get into the funeral home business itself.

Family-owned funeral homes are quickly disappearing, not just in the Jewish community, but nationwide. It's not uncommon for corporations to own more than one funeral home in a local area. Many consumers complain that those working for conglomerates don't have the proper background and training to put together a Jewish funeral sensitively.

Pre-need planning has become a catchword, with funeral homes making pitches for customers to purchase "inflation-proof" funeral plans before a death takes place.

This week's closure of Stein Hebrew and Takoma Funeral homes, both owned by Loewen Group Inc., shows the danger of such preplanning. Customers who had made pre-need funeral arrangements may not be getting the full refund on the interest that accrued on invested principal. There was a time when Jewish communities took care of their own deceased; attending to the dead was a communal, not a corporate, responsibility.

Dignity was foremost. Grieving families didn't need to wonder if they were overcharged or swayed in their bereavement into purchasing services that were not halachically required - or even antithetical to Jewish custom.

By negotiating low-cost, basic traditional funeral arrangements with local funeral providers, the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington has gone a long way toward helping Jewish consumers.

But, it's time for Greater Washington's Jewish community to consider doing more.

It's time for the Jewish community to explore the feasibility of launching a nonprofit Jewish funeral home.

One place to look for cooperation is Washington Hebrew Congregation.

The D.C. Reform synagogue already has begun building the area's first large-scale, non profit Jewish cemetery; Garden of Remembrance Gan Zikaron Memorial Park, in northern Montgomery County's Clarksburg. Plans for the cemetery, which is geared to Jews of all denominations and congregations, as well as the unaffiliated, include an on-site chapel at a later date

That chapel could well serve the entire Jewish community

It's time for the Washington Board of Rabbis the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington and other organizations to get together to evaluate the possibility of creating a communal structure to handle Jewish funerals. In the San Francisco area, for example, a non-profit corporation provides Jewish mortuary services.

Jewish funerals should be handled with dignity, not profits, taking top priority.