From the Rabbi’s Desk February 2019
Rabbi Carla Freedman
As you certainly know, there have been many deaths in our little congregation this year, including two very recently. And this highlights the need for all of us to do some advance planning, so that our families will not get stuck making decisions at the height of their grief.
Among the decisions you should be thinking about is the matter of burial versus cremation. Judaism has traditionally frowned upon the idea of cremation, because the Torah tells us that humans were created from the dust of the Earth, and to dust we should return (Gen. 3:19). That bias was intensified when we learned that so many of our fellow-Jews were cremated by the Nazis, clearly against their own
wishes. But there is no absolute prohibition against cremation, and when people compare the high cost of burial to the cost of cremation, the latter suddenly
becomes more appealing. (It is worth noting that Jewish burial practices have changed a number of times over the millennia and that our practices in North America are different from the practices in Israel today).
If you are entitled to free burial at a military cemetery because of your (or your spouse’s) military service, you need your discharge papers readily available to show the folks at Bushnell or Sarasota. It would be helpful to the military as well as your
family if you put this in motion sooner rather than later.
Regardless of your choice and the reason for it, you need to communicate that clearly to your heirs. Generally, families are inclined to do what their deceased relatives want, but they need to be very certain about that. If you decide on an in-ground burial (whether of a body in a coffin or the “cremains” in a suitable
container), you will need to purchase a burial plot. There are a few choices in our area, and they vary in cost, convenience of location, and attractiveness. If
you haven’t already done so, you should take a tour of the Jewish cemeteries (and others? Your call) in our area.
You should consider which funeral home you want to handle your funeral and burial. There are differences in cost that should be established before this decision
is made. And there are various services that these businesses provide (and please be aware: this IS a business). You will need to think about these details and make the decisions you want honoured. When you compare costs, please be sure that you are not evaluating apples versus oranges. Get a specific list of expenses, not just a bottom line.
If you have strong feelings about sitting shiva, or other Jewish mourning practices, you should make sure you family understands what your expectations are.
Of course, you should also deal with matters like a “Do Not Resuscitate” order, and setting limits to how much medical intervention you want at the end of your life. Have you designated a health care proxy? Who will make decisions once you can no longer do so?
It is a kindness to your family and your community, to deal with these matters now, when there is no urgency, and when you can reflect on them. But please, do that. It is the responsible and caring thing to do.