Archive for August, 2012

Planning a Jewish funeral is one of the hardest things for families to do.

No matter how expected the death was – and all the more so when it wasn’t expected – a death leaves everyone in the family reeling with grief, and overwhelmed by all of the logistical choices that need to come next.

• How do you find a funeral home and a funeral officiant who can provide the right kind of Jewish funeral service (for your family?)
• How much time do you have to get everything done?
• What does the funeral-planning process look like?

I work with many unaffiliated Jewish families. Some are interfaith; others come from a strong atheist or Secular Humanist orientation. I will strive, in this blog article, to answer some of the most common questions I encounter working with these families.

Step One: Contact A Funeral Home

… This article has moved! In July 2018, I created a webpage dedicated entirely to Jewish funerals in metro Philly. To keep reading where you left off, please visit: SecularJewishFunerals.com. This article in particular can be found here.

Read Full Post »

In honor of several friends who have lost loved ones this week, and another friend honoring a yahrzeit, I wanted to offer this excerpt from a book I’m reading called Readings for Rememberance: A Collection For Funerals and Memorial Services, selected and with an introduction by Eleanor Munro.

One unique aspect of Judaism I have always loved is its open embrace of mourning. Death is a deeply painful event, and Judaism isn’t shy about acknowledging and embracing this pain.

Death is also an event that reminds us of the value and importance of everything we do here on earth. Here is what the famous Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, had to say in the mid-1900s:

Some religions do not regard our sojourn on earth as true life. They either teach that everything appearing to us here is mere appearance, behind which we should penetrate, or that it is only a forecourt of the true world, a forecourt which we should cross without paying much attention to it. Judaism, on the contrary, teaches that what a man does now and here with holy intent is no less important, no less true — being a terrestrial indeed, but none the less factual, link with divine being — than the life in the world to come. This doctrine has found its fullest expression in Hasidism.

Rabbi Hanokh said: “The other nations too believe that there are two worlds. They too say: ‘In the other world.’ There difference is this: They think that the two are separate and severed, but Israel professes that the two worlds are essentially one and shall in fact become one.”

In their true essence, the two worlds are one. They only have, as it were, moved apart. But they shall again become one, as they are in the their true essence. Man was created for the purpose of unifying the two worlds. He contributes toward this unity by holy living, in relationship to the world in which he has been set, at the place on which he stands.

— Martin Buber, from “Here Where One Stands” in The Way of Man


I offer funerals in Mainline Philadelphia and surrounding areas.  To reach me, please fill out the contact form found at SecularJewishFunerals.com.

Read Full Post »

Are you looking for a wedding or vow renewal ceremony location that is:

* outdoors, natural, and almost totally private

* no facility fee (!)

* for a very small wedding party (under a dozen — no seating provided)

* within 20 minutes of downtown Philly?

After years of officiating weddings in the Mainline area — and years wracking my brain trying to come up with an outdoors location that meets all these criteria — I have finally come up with the perfect venue! I think of it as Philly’s Best Kept Outdoors Wedding Venue Secret. Most amazing of all: It is free.

Rolling Hill Park is an exquisite natural park nestled in the winding roads and soaring mansions of Gladwyne. The park itself is made up of winding dirt paths that travel for about a mile down to a riverbank. The walk passes by several abandoned rock homesteads dating back to the 1800s, which would make fabulous background vistas for photographs. And, because the land is not private (it is owned by MontgomeryTownship), there is no multi-thousand-dollar facility fee.

Wow. All the times I’ve been hiking there, I have never seen a small wedding party there. Heck, I hardly see anyone at all — just the occasional local running his or her dog off leash, and even more rarely than that, an equestrian riding his or her horse on the trails.

Apart from the sound of an airplane passing overhead now and then, the only sounds are crickets, cicadaeas, and a cacophony of birds. If you love nature, are on a budget, and just want a short, sweet, simple wedding — this is the place for you.

Keep scrolling to see some snapshots I have taken of different places where you could gather to exchange your vows, as well as idyllic places to pose afterward for pictures.

I am able to offer short, simple but heartfelt wedding ceremonies or vow renewal rituals that are either “spiritual” in nature, or lean more toward the secular humanist side of the spectrum (ie, no “god” references). Email me at joysa@aol.com for rates, date availability, and more details.


This is the first place, near the parking area, where you could exchange vows. It’s a very short walk, so is ideal for a group in which guests have limited mobility. The woods extend behind it, and there are usually no people here.


This is an old sawmill the operated in the early 1900s on the river beside it. It was abandoned in the 1970s. It would make a cool backdrop for photographs, along with the river and abandoned homesteads nearby. (About a 0.7 mile walk into the woods from the parking area.)


This is an area along the trail, by the river, where a group could gather to hear you exchange your vows. The sound of the trickling stream is right beside you here.


If you were feeling really adventurous, everyone could take off their shoes and you could wade out into the rock bar and exchange vows in the river itself! On the day I was here taking pictures, a few friends were hanging out and playing guitar.


I love this as a place to exchange vows. It is one of the abandoned homesteads that had been occupied by the families that worked at the sawmill. You could stand here, with this as your backdrop, looking at the river while you exchange vows. Nestled in the trees, it reminds me of a set from Lord of the Rings or a Grimm’s fairytale.Image What was this? An old cellar? Not sure. Another nice backdrop for a photo.


On the way back to the parking lot (away from the river), you pass by this wood-made stairway, cutting up the hill. It would make a beautiful place to stage a wedding party or stage wedding guests for a group photo.


I am able to offer short, simple but heartfelt wedding ceremonies or vow renewal rituals that are Jewish, “spiritual” in nature, or lean more toward the secular humanist side of the spectrum (ie, no “god” references). I have suggestions on places where you could go afterward with your wedding party to eat, as well as practical suggestions for making this venue idea work for you and your guests.

Read a few reviews from happy couples I have worked with at the Knot here. Email me at joysa@aol.com for rates, date availability, and more details. Please state in your subject line/email that you are interested in a Rolling Hill Park wedding (or vow renewal).

Cheers, and congratulations on your happy event!


For more on Philly weddings, please see some of my other posts:

Read Full Post »