Are you looking for a ritual officiant for the burial or memorial service of a Jewish loved one?
I am a freelance officiant of Jewish funerals and weddings. I have completed four years of rabbinical school and live in Havertown in the Mainline.
In this blog post, I will let you know what the preparation process is like. While I officiate standard traditional Jewish funerals, my largest clientele is families who are unaffiliated, have interfaith family dynamics or who want a theistically secular funeral service. In this post, I will also give you some examples of specific prayers or readings we can use in the service.
Every funeral ritual is different: As an officiant, I try to match the liturgy and content with the beliefs and wishes of the deceased as well as the sentiments of his/her loved ones. Trying to do both is possible — it just takes some time, and some conversations, to figure it out.
Many Jewish funerals include two classic pieces of Jewish liturgy: the Mourner’s Kaddish and El Male Rachamim. But today, many people favor more contemporary readings on the issues of death and grief. For an interfaith audience, a traditional reading from the Torah (such as Psalm 23 “The Lord is My Shephard I Shall Not Want …”) works well, and is recognizable to both Jews and Christians. OR, we can substitute biblical readings with selections that are less theistic in nature, such as an excerpt from the beautiful poem by Marge Piercy called The Seven of Pentacles.
We figure out what readings or liturgy are best to include, based on the conversations I have with immediate family members and friends.
During the memorial service, I love to include one to three guests, who come up during the service and offer a few thoughts or memories about the loved one. We can also include and “open mic” situation, where we open up the floor to any of the guests present for some impromptu memory-sharing.
I also love to include a short eulogy where I share highlights of the person’s life, her loves and interests, and what she will be most remembered for. Prior to my rabbinic life, I worked as a professional journalist for 15 years; this autobiographical information I glean from family members during interviews, and write into a eulogy that I hope captures the spirit and life of the person who died.
So how, exactly, does all of this happen? The process for funeral service planning is the following:
1) An initial phone call to get acquainted and confirm the schedule.
2) If you live in the Mainline, an in-person meeting with one or two family members who knew the deceased really well. We will meet for about 1 hour in your home, and discuss what kind of service you would like, as well as share details about who the deceased was as a person.
3) If you live outside the Mainline, this planning meeting can be done via conference call.
4) Ask you to find out the deceased person’s Hebrew name. You might need to make calls to your extended family to find this out. It might also be recorded on a ketubah. A person’s Hebrew name is usually used during the memorial service.
5) Meet ½ an hour before the service begins to go over any final details or questions.
6) The service itself is usually held at the funeral home. If internment is going to take place, the service is usually followed by a much shorter graveside service, with just immediate family members attending.
If you are on a tight schedule planning your funeral, and wish to contact me, please send me an email, as well as phone call. (I have several small children at home, so I’m not always deeply attuned to all of my technological gadgets!)
They are: email@example.com, (c) 267-902-7752.
May strength, comfort and peace be with you and your family in this difficult time.
Another article I wrote on this topic can be found here: http://wanderinghebrew.com/2012/08/15/planning-a-jewish-funeral-in-philly-101-what-you-need-to-know/