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Washington Jewish Week, August 3, 2000

New Funeral Contract Negotiated

by Merry Madway Eisenstadt

Staff Writer

 

Traditional Jewish funeral arrangements, under a new package negotiated by a nonprofit Jewish community organization, will now cost $400-$500 more per funeral – a 40 to 50% increase.

The Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington – (JFPCGW) was forced to find new funeral providers last month after the Loewen Group, which operates Pearson Funeral Home in Falls Church and Takoma Funeral Home in the District, among others, declined to renew JFPCGW’s contract to provide economical, traditional Jewish funeral services.

The new contracts for basic funeral arrangements are with Donald V. Borgwardt Funeral Home in Beltsville, Md., and Jefferson Funeral Chapel in Alexandria. Funeral services do not include burial plots or cemetery fees.

For $1,395 through June 30 of next year and $1415 from July 1,2001 to June 30,2002, the contracts provide, among other services, basic funeral arrangements in strict adherence to Jewish law, including an all-wood, plain pine casket; the use of the funeral premises for ritual washing (tahara) and guarding (shmira) of the body; muslin shroud sets; and the use of the funeral home’s chapel for “a funeral service when desired by a family.” The contracts provide “cleaning, dressing and casketing the body when ritual washing is not performed.”

Also included in the prearranged price is removal of the body from place of death (within 40 miles of the Beltway); transportation of the body to the synagogue or a home for the funeral service; and transportation to the cemetery”

Although the Loewen group legally had the right not to renew the contract, the corporation could have come back with a higher price offer; but declined, according to Bob Hausman, JFPCGW president. In the meantime, Loewen – mired in Chapter 11 reorganization – has shut down Takoma and Stein Hebrew Memorial Funeral homes.

Under the previous arrangement, a basic, traditional Jewish funeral package cost $995. The new contract is a significant price increase, and that was disappointing to us, says David Zinner, JFPCGW vice president. He notes that the price is still well below prevailing market rates.

“For us, the price is only one element of what we are doing,” he explains. “We’re trying to make it easy and convenient for people to have a traditional funeral.”

By negotiating a Jewish Funeral contract in advance and publicizing it through the synagogues and on the JFPCGW Web site, people can educate themselves in advance but still “avoid pre-purchases and pre-paying” continues Zinner.

With JFPCGW prearranged contract, it is never necessary for a [grieving] family to contact a funeral home or significantly interact with them.” A synagogue member need only contact the rabbi or bereavement committee for handling the arrangements.

More information on the new JFPCGW contract is available at www.jewish-funerals.org