Portland ensures proper Jewish burial for all Jews
By DEBORAH MOON
article created on: 2011-05-01T00:00:00
An intensive and collaborative effort stretching across three states last month enabled a Jewish man to have the proper Jewish burial his daughter thought was impossible and prompted an Arizona rabbi to marvel at the Portland Jewish community’s commitment and organization.
The ability to rapidly arrange a proper Jewish burial for a man who was already at a funeral home awaiting cremation, was due to the existence of Hesed Shel Emet, the Oregon Jewish Indigent Burial Society. The memo of understanding that created Hesed Shel Emet in 2009 has been signed by 32 rabbis, 11 Jewish cemeteries, three hevra kadisha (burial societies), four agencies and Holman’s Funeral Service and Riverview Cemetery Funeral Home.
Hesed Shel Emet (unrequited kindness) was the brainchild of Cedar Sinai Park Development Director Debbi Bodie after she helped arrange a Jewish funeral for a resident of Robison Jewish Health Center who had outlived her financial resources. Since then, the fund that bridges all segments of the community has provided a proper Jewish burial for seven individuals.
Most recently, while at a professional conference in Dallas, Texas, Bodie received a call from Chabad of Oregon Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm requesting urgent help for the family of a man who was scheduled to be cremated the next day. The man’s Jewish daughter in Arizona was distraught because her half-sisters in Oregon felt the family could only afford a cremation, which University of Arizona Chabad Rabbi Shmuel Teichtel told her was counter to Jewish tradition.
Teichtel called Wilhelm, who called Bodie.
Far from Portland, Bodie called Holman’s, the funeral home which has handled most of the Hesed Shel Emet burials. After a flurry of phone calls between Dallas, Portland and Tucson, within a few hours Holman’s had collected the body and arranged a Jewish funeral, which all three daughters attended and appreciated.
Wilhelm said that Teichtel was amazed by the organized response from Portland’s Jewish community to ensure this final mitzvah is available for all Jews who reside in Oregon or Southwest Washington at the time of their death.
Bodie gives much of the credit to Holman’s, who she said has been quietly performing this service for decades. One of the few funeral homes in the state that is still family owned, Holman’s is now operated by Dan Holmes, with the assistance of his son Cameron Holmes, daughter Alissa Holmes Kalamaris and long-time employee Scott Newkirk. Both Cameron Holmes and Newkirk are funeral directors with years of experience in Jewish burial practices.
Holman’s opened in downtown Portland in 1854, before Oregon was a state, where its close proximity to synagogues made it the funeral home most Jews turned to. In 1923, the Holman family moved the business to its present home on Southeast Hawthorne, where it has continued to serve the Jewish community. Dan Holmes began working for the third generation of Holmans 38 years ago and quickly came to see Howard and Margaret Holman, who had no children of their own, as a second set of parents.
“At their deaths, I was the one they entrusted to carry on the business,” said Dan Holmes, adding he feels extremely fortunate that his own children “are working in the business to help this family business continue.”
Ever since the influx of Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union and later the former Soviet Union, Holman’s has been helping ensure a proper burial for all Jews regardless of their means to pay. Since many of the refugees were elderly when they arrived and unable to find employment, Dan Holmes said many could not afford funeral expenses.
“Because of our relationship with the Jewish community, we felt it was something we needed to do,” Holmes said. “On many occasions, we provided funeral services and Jewish caskets at no cost when there were no funds.”
Holmes said he is grateful to Bodie for creating Hesed Shel Emet to ensure all local Jews can have a proper burial.
“It’s wonderful what Debbi has stepped up to do to help the Jewish community and establish this fund for those who are less fortunate and to be able to help them,” he said.
Newkirk, who has been at Holman’s for 15 years, praised Bodie for creating Hesed Shel Emet and for her help in coordinating indigent funerals.
“It’s nice to see a community come together and take care of their own; it’s not something you see in a lot of traditions,” he said.
Bodie said even before the formation of Hesed Shel Emet, the community recognized the need to take care of its own.
“But there was nobody to see it through or to think of fundraising,” said Bodie. “Now that this program is in place and there is more awareness, the community is stepping up.”
But she said the need continues and ongoing fundraising is essential. Just before the most recent two burials, she sent out a fundraising letter requesting people consider making a donation in memory of those they have lost.
Holman’s also has a letter from Bodie explaining the program and donation envelopes available. Kalamaris, who works with families on pre-planning, said families arranging a funeral consider a donation to ensure others also can be buried in dignity.
Those who need the assistance of Hesed Shel Emet or wishing to make a donation, should contact Bodie at 503-423-7845.