Posts Tagged ‘Jewish funerals Mainline Philly’

If you have found this article, it is probably because you have just experienced the loss of a loved one and are trying to figure out “what to do next.” I am a rabbi living in Philadelphia’s Mainline and in addition to my work at a local congregation, I work with about 40+ unaffiliated families each year offering weddings or funerals.

In this blog post, I will let you know what the preparation process is like. While I sometimes officiate standard, or traditional, Jewish funerals, my largest clientele is families who are unaffiliated, have interfaith family dynamics, or who want a theistically secular funeral service. I will also give you some examples of specific prayers or readings that can be used in this type of ceremony.

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 an “open mic” of sorts, where we open up the floor to the guests 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 20 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 a text. (I have several small children at home, so I’m not always deeply attuned to all of my technological gadgets!)

To contact me, please visit my website dedicated to Jewish funerals at SecularJewishFunerals.com and fill out the contact form.

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:



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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.

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