Death and Mourning

At BJ, we understand the difficulty and sensitivity around the subject of death. We provide support to all members of our community during this transition.

Notifying the BJ Community

Please contact Billie Di Stefano if a BJ family member has recently passed away. When we are informed about the death of a BJ family member, a condolence email is sent to the BJ community as soon as possible. Information about funeral arrangements and shiva plans will also be sent, if desired. An announcement also appears in the weekly Kol Jeshurun.

Funeral Services

BJ recommends Plaza Jewish Community Chapel because it is the only non-profit and communally owned chapel serving the Jewish Community in New York. It also offers a host of useful resources including cemetery and synagogue directions, bereavement services, Jewish funeral customs, funeral etiquette, as well as practical and spiritual pre-planning materials.

Cemetery Plots

BJ owns cemetery plots in the King Solomon Memorial Park section of the West Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clifton, NJ as well as in Beth Olam Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens.

Our staff and volunteers are ready to consult with you on the possibilities that are available and to arrange visits to our two cemeteries at a convenient moment. Interest-free payment plans are available for up to 24 months (with the deed transferring after payment in full). For more information, questions, or to set up a private meeting, please email cemetery@bj.org.

About the Cemeteries

For more than 4,000 years, we have assumed the sacred responsibility begun by our ancestors to provide a place for the burial of our departed loved ones.

 

At B’nai Jeshurun, this obligation began when our congregation was founded in 1825, with a small plot for burials on West 32nd Street. In 1851, with our sister congregations Shearith Israel and Shaaray Tefilah, we purchased 12 acres of Brooklyn/Queens land to found Beth Olam Cemetery. Many prominent people are buried at Beth Olam, including Uriah Levy (founder of the B’nai Jeshurun Education Institute and the first Jewish commodore of the US Navy), Emma Lazarus, Benjamin Cardozo, BJ Rabbis Morris Jacob Raphall and Judah Magnes, and Sam Spiegel, producer of On the Waterfront and Lawrence of Arabia. Alongside these and other famous people, many generations of BJ families are buried there. BJ is now able to continue this tradition, having just confirmed the availability of two new sections of land with more than 200 burial plots at Beth Olam (an extremely rare find in the five boroughs, where no new cemetery land will ever be approved).

 

In addition to the new plots at Beth Olam, a generous benefactor donated a section of King Solomon Memorial Park in Clifton, NJ, to BJ, more than forty years ago, allowing new generations of our members to plan ahead for the eventualities we all face.

 

To that end, we encourage our community to explore the options available and to make arrangements before being confronted by the grief of loss. As we plan for the legal and emotional exigencies attendant to the end of life, we hope that the purchase of burial plots will be part of that effort, and that doing so in the context of our BJ community will bring comfort.

Beth Olam Cemetery — Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, NY

Beth Olam is a remarkable, beautiful, and historic place, having recently received designation as a National Historic Site. Situated on the Brooklyn/Queens border just off the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the cemetery gates and the Shearith Israel chapel at Beth Olam were designed by Calvert Vaux (Central, Prospect, and Fort Greene Parks, as well as Jefferson Market Courthouse) and are believed to be his only religious structures. Many of the mausoleums at Beth Olam feature stained glass windows attributed to Tiffany and LaFarge and cast bronze doors, considered to be of significant historical and artistic significance. Additionally, many gravesites feature dramatic funerary sculpture evoking broken classical columns, trees, and other marvels.

 

After some years of benign neglect, the three congregations have been working closely together to maintain and restore the property in an effort we call “common ground.”

 

A moratorium on new cemetery land within the five boroughs has made burial options extremely rare and costly. The New York Times wrote in 2010 that costs of scarce plots in NYC cemeteries “have more than tripled in less than a decade.” A quick survey of current prices shows $12-14,000 for a single plot at Greenwood, singles at Woodlawn begin at $7,000, with family plots ranging from $65,000 to an astounding $1.5 million. Burial plots at Beth Olam are available to BJ members at a price of $7,200 each, plus the costs associated with interment.

King Solomon Memorial Park — Clifton, NJ

BJ also holds a section at King Solomon Memorial Park in Clifton New Jersey. Located approximately 10 miles from the Lincoln Tunnel, we maintain 400 plots within the larger, beautifully manicured park-like setting. The cemetery houses a 40-person chapel and is located near a hotel, restaurants, and other services convenient for out-of-town visitors. In the last few years, a number of BJ members have purchased plots at King Solomon but many location choices remain available within our section. Prices for burial plots at King Solomon are currently $1,500 each, plus the cost of internment.

Hevra Kadisha
(Comfort & Support for Mourners)

The volunteers in our Hevra Kadisha Committee offer additional support and resources to mourners:

  • Perform tahara (preparation of the body for burial)
  • Assure a minyan will be present to say kaddish when shiva takes place in Manhattan
  • Provide escorts for mourners into Kabbalat Shabbat services
  • Contact the family by phone at the time of Sholshim (30 days) and prior to the High Holy Days and Pesah

BJ also sends a condolence platter to the family and provides siddurim, kippot, and a havdalah set for shiva minyanim in Manhattan.

 

A Guide For Mourners

Who Are Mourners?

According to Jewish tradition, the laws of mourning apply to one who encounters the death of a parent, sibling, child or spouse. Of course, we may experience grief and mourn the death of other close relatives or friends but we are not obliged to observe the formal mourning practices.

Shiva (Mourning Week)

Shiva is the seven-day mourning period, observed by the family of the deceased, beginning on the day of burial and continuing for six additional days with a break for Shabbat. The purpose of shiva is to give mourners a chance to separate themselves from their usual activities and to spend time with people who share memories of the deceased, to gain comfort from loved ones and friends, and to leave time and space to allow the grieving process to unfold. It is usually observed in the home of the deceased or of a mourner.

  • Shiva commences immediately upon returning from the cemetery with the partaking of the Se’udat Havra-ah (the meal of consolation), which is often prepared by friends, extended family and/or the community. The meal often consists of round foods (such as eggs or bagels) to symbolize the continuity of life.
  • It is also traditional for mourners to remain in the home, to sit on low stools, and to wear non-leather footwear. Mourners may also follow the traditional practice of refraining from the routine of daily life which includes washing themselves, changing clothes, combing hair, shaving and applying makeup. Mirrors may be covered in the house of mourning to take the focus away from outer appearances.
  • While it is a mitzvah to visit the mourners and bring food, it is essential that the condolence visit not become a social occasion. Visitors extending their condolences are encouraged to sit quietly, allowing the mourners to set the tone. It is customary to extend condolences, but to wait for the mourners to initiate further conversation. It is not appropriate to give greetings or salutations or to ask questions as to how the mourner feels.
  • In lieu of flowers, it is appropriate to give tzedakah to an organization that has meaning for the mourners and/or the deceased.
  • During shiva, mourners recite the Kaddish at morning, afternoon and evening services. B’nai Jeshurun’s daily morning minyan is open to mourners wishing to pray and recite the Kaddish. BJ can assist in providing minyan leaders and participants for an evening minyan at the shiva home.

Shabbat during the Week of Shiva

Public shiva observance is suspended for Shabbat, from sundown on Friday until Havdalah on Saturday evening. On Shabbat, mourners are encouraged to attend services at B’nai Jeshurun and recite the Kaddish with the community. The Hevra Kadisha will arrange to escort them into the sanctuary on Friday evening (as is traditional) at the conclusion of the singing of the joyful Lekha Dodi. The mourners are greeted by the congregation with the following words of consolation:

 

Hamakom yenahem etkhem betokh

she-ar avelei tziyon virushalayim.

May God comfort you together with

all the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

 

If a holiday occurs during the shiva week, please consult the rabbi to discuss the length of the shiva. The completion of shiva is observed with a walk around the block, the resumption of work and other regular activities following the minyan on the morning of the seventh day. For Jews, remembrance of the dead is a great obligation. This commitment is observed in several ways.

Shloshim

Mourning is not completed with shiva, but continues for a total of thirty days from the day of burial during which time mourners recite the Kaddish daily. Although mourners are obligated to continue reciting the Kaddish for a total of eleven months from date of death only in the case of a parent, one may choose to do so for other relatives. The recitation of the Kaddish helps mourners to reconnect with the Jewish community, giving continuity to our lives during this difficult period.

 

During shloshim, mourners return to work. Traditionally, they do not attend parties with music and dancing, other forms of public entertainment, shave or buy new clothes. When mourning a parent, there are some restrictions that continue for eleven months. Someone on the Hevra Kadisha committee will call mourners at the end of the shloshim period.

Yahrzeit and the Unveiling

Yahrzeit (the anniversary of the death) is observed by lighting a special candle that burns for twenty-four hours on the eve of the actual date by the Hebrew calendar. The funeral home will give you a perpetual calendar and you will also be reminded of the date by B’nai Jeshurun so that you may attend the morning minyan and recite the Kaddish. You will also be invited to participate in a group aliyah on the Shabbat closest to the actual date. It is also customary, if at all possible, to visit the gravesite on the yahrzeit.

 

The unveiling, when prayers and reading are recited and a headstone dedicated, is customarily performed prior to the first anniversary of the death although it can be done at any time after the conclusion of shiva.

Yizkor (Memorial Service)

The Yizkor Service is held four times each year – on Yom Kippur, the last day of Pesah, the 2nd day of Shavuot and on Shemini Atzeret. It is customary to light a Yahrzeit candle at home on the evening prior to these holy days and to visit the cemetery prior to the High Holy Days. It is traditional to give charity at this time in memory of all the dead, not only one’s own family and friends, but of the larger Jewish community as well. At B’nai Jeshurun a card and envelope is handed to everyone with the siddur for this purpose.

Living Will and Health Care Proxy

Jewish tradition teaches that life is a blessing and a gift from God. We must therefore value life and respect our bodies. Although we have the responsibility to care for ourselves and seek the necessary medical treatment, modern advances in medicine and its practice have raised many new questions. In addition, they allow each of us to participate in the decisions regarding our own health care. Should we lose the ability to make those decisions, it is important for us to make our wishes known in advance. This can be done through a health care proxy, or durable power of attorney for health care, which allows you to designate a health care agent to make decisions on your behalf. An instruction directive, or “living will,” asks that you state your preferences regarding types of treatment decisions that may arise. These and other documents are available from the Rabbinical Assembly. Since decisions of this sort should not be made in haste, you may wish to discuss the matter with the rabbi.

Reading List

  • The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Rabbi Maurice Lamm, Jonathan David, New York 1969
  • Mourning and Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing by Anne Brener, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont 1993
  • Consolation, The Spiritual Journey Beyond Grief by Rabbi Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Publication Society, New York 2004
  • The Jewish Mourner’s Book of Why by Arthur Kolatch, Jonathan David, New York 1993
  • On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York 1969
  • The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York 1973

 

We Are Here For You

Our rabbis and staff are here to provide comfort, counseling, guidance, and support with funeral, burial, shiva, and other arrangements.

To obtain assistance, BJ members should call 212-787-7600 as soon as possible. During office hours, press 1 to speak to the Life Cycles Manager. After hours, listen for the prompt to hear the phone number of the rabbi on call.

For more information, please contact Billie Di Stefano.