Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Jewish funeral, Israel style

Have you ever been to a Jewish funeral?
I can walk you through the normal Israeli way of burial if you'd like.
Last Tuesday we were at this big cemetery in central Israel. 

Relatives and friends of the deceased arrive on their own and then gather in  this building.
There is a little time to greet the mourners and converse.
The body should be buried as soon as possible after death, preferably with 24 hours.

 Then the shocking part comes, when they bring the body, wrapped in a white shroud, on a stretcher and put it on this bier.  That's where I start crying.
Folks gather round while someone gives a eulogy.  
The collar of the close family is cut by the Chevra Kaddisha (burial society) official.
The immediate relatives (male)  recite the Kaddish prayer. 

On the wall is written verse 7 of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) 12:
"And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."

Four mourners carry the stretcher out onto this wagon . . .

and the long walk to the far side of the sprawling cemetery begins.
The Orthodox Chevra Kaddisha man chants prayers and Psalms along the way.

The body is lowered into a deep grave, covered with a few concrete slabs, and then covered with the good earth of Israel.
Male people are welcome to shovel a bit of dirt.
But the main work is then quickly done by a young religious man with a turia (a big hoe).
The closest relatives say Kaddish again.   El Malei Rachamim (God, full of mercy) is sung by the cantor.
A few people bring flowers but the more Jewish custom is for each to put a little stone on the grave. 
And that's it, the end of a life. 

My kids and I lingered around the fresh grave until a Bobcat drove up behind us and already started digging new holes.

Then the tractor drove in loaded with the concrete slabs.
Wow, they couldn't wait.
People are dying to get in to this cemetery.
Other cemeteries have run out of ground and are now burying people in multi-story fashion.

Thirty days after the burial the family returns for the ceremony to set the tombstone.
I must admit, the Jewish way of burial and mourning is very respectful and the ritual is supportive.

People say in Hebrew,  "May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may you know only good news."
You are welcome to see the two previous posts on this subject.
Linking to ABC Wednesday.)


William Kendall said...

The placement of little stones on Jewish tombstones was something that struck my interest when I first heard about it.

Hels said...

Very supportive and respectful *nod*. I think the most helpful part is straight after the funeral when friends and family come to the home of the mourners to sit with them for hours on end. The mourners don't cook, clean or do any other mundane task for the whole week.

Dina said...

Thanks Helen. Some of the kids decided we were not going to do the traditional shiva mourning.
Three of them flew in from abroad for only six days, so we used that time to honor Moshe's memory in other ways.

sarala said...

Sorry for your loss. The Jewish funerals I have been to the women are allowed to throw in some dirt too. I know of the tradition of placing a rock on the grave but I actually never learned the significance.

Cloudia said...


Hildred said...

Whatever the tradition it brings comfort and closure to those left to grieve.

Kay said...

This is very sad, but interesting too. It quite different from our Buddhist funerals, but the comforting is the same. I like the idea of the stones too.

Spiderdama said...

I knew about the small stones, I like it. I always find it odd that the dead must be buried so fast. Here we have about week before burial, even longer if the family lives far away. Sad but nice post Dina

Birdman said...

Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Your step by step was very informative and yes, respectful.

cieldequimper said...

'People are dying to get into this cemetery'. Dina... :-)

No I didn't know though I have been to a Jewish wedding.

John Marsh said...

Many years ago when my brother died at 19 I noticed not only did our Jewish neighbors in Florida bring over food but they sat silently around my mother holding her hand for many hours. It was very helpful--he dies overseas and the body did not arrive for 5 days. They were also the only ones that remembered the 1-year anniversary with a visit or card. A very kind tradition.

On the other hand when my Mother died we had four days and nights of an Irish wake.

Roger Owen Green said...

I've been to but one Jewish funeral, in the US.


Joy said...

Interesting to learn about the whole ritual. Happily I have only experienced a naming ceremony

PerthDailyPhoto said...

Condolences Dina, sad times.. as father of your children Moshe would be an important part of your life, thank you so much for sharing, it is always so interesting to learn about different traditions. You take care.

Anonymous said...

my condolences to you and your family Dina. thank you for sharing. shalom

tulika singh said...

My condolences Dina. Attending a funeral somehow brings peaceful closure to someone's passing away.

Mikhail Bershchanski said...

Completely followed all the rituals. I have also experience with Jewish funerals and in this friends and families plays most helpful part. An Jewish Funeral Home In Brooklyn Ny near
to my place always remind me of life's reality.