Community agrees on compassionate burial for all
By DEBORAH MOON
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When Florence Moore died in April 2008 without a burial plan, her friend Debbi Bodie resolved then and there to get her a proper Jewish burial and to create a program to ensure all Jews in Oregon and Southwest Washington would have access to the same.
Together with Rabbi Ariel Stone, who was at that time president of the Oregon Board of Rabbis, Bodie worked diligently to create a community-wide program that would ensure that final mitzvah would be available to all.
The two women were ideally situated to work on the issue: Bodie is the chief development officer of Cedar Sinai Park and chair of the cemetery committee at Congregation Neveh Shalom; as president of the OBR, Stone fielded several requests for funeral assistance during the same time. And the two women have had a self-described “mutual admiration society” since the mid-90s when Stone was associate rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel and Bodie was the president of CBI’s Sisterhood. Stone now heads the liberal unaffiliated Congregation Shir Tikvah.
On Oct. 28, 2009, a memo of understanding titled “Hesed Shel Emet: so that all Jews can be buried in dignity” was released. To date, the memo has garnered the support and agreement to participate from 32 rabbis, 11 Jewish cemeteries, three hevra kadisha (burial societies), four agencies and both Holman’s Funeral Service and Riverview Cemetery Funeral Home.
The rabbis represent every denomination as well as non-denominational rabbis from across Oregon and Southwest Washington. Even with the incredibly broad support, Stone said the burial program is open to everyone who considers themselves Jewish, regardless of whether their rabbi has signed on or whether they have a connection with any rabbi or congregation.
“The only people who need to be treated equally are the people who are dying and need help,” said Stone. “I realized it can not be contingent on a rabbi or congregation belonging to the organization.”
Both women said the committee that developed the new group was the best committee they had ever worked on—full of good vibes and the understanding that this was a very important mitzvah that the entire community needs to support.
Formed by a joint effort of the OBR and the Jewish Agency Council of Oregon, the purpose of Hesed Shel Emet (unrequited kindness) is “to do the mitzvah of caring for the burial of those who cannot afford it.”
The committee that developed the new program was very conscious of what it did and did not define, said Stone. Proper Jewish burial is clearly defined (see box).
Who is a Jew is not defined.
“If a person considers themself Jewish, they can participate,” said Stone. However, she added, “To the extent we know so and so is Jewish in a way we know would make a rabbi uncomfortable, we would set it up so the rabbi asked to officiate would not feel any qualms.”
The committee likewise decided not to define indigence.
“That’s not a compassionate way to relate to someone who is dying or who has just had someone die,” said Stone. “We can say we can help you discover if you have any resources you don’t know you have. We will do our best to keep the fund solvent.”
“You cannot make good policy out of the fear you are about to be cheated,” she said. “We created a genuine compassionate policy.”
The program will be funded by a Hesed Shel Emet endowment fund established at the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation. The goal for the fund is $150,000. The fund currently has $71,500 with an additional $60,000 pledged. Donations to the fund can be made by contacting OJCF at 503-248-9328 or online at ojcf.org.
The committee requests signatories to the memo also participate in fund-raising efforts for the fund. The committee plans to develop some strategies and suggestions for fundraising.
The steering committee consists of David Fuks, Marian Fenimore, Charles Schiffman, Julie Diamond, Stone, Rabbi Kenneth Brodkin, Rabbi James Greene, Sydney Baer, Fred Rothstein, Karen Blauer and Katie Mock. Bodie is program administrator.
Stone said the community’s previous method for dealing with indigent burials fell apart with the massive influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The majority joined Congregation Neveh Shalom and most still needed assistance when a family member died. She said that resulted in Neveh Shalom bearing the brunt of the program.
The new program recognizes that while one congregation may bear the brunt of space needs (since most people want to be buried with family), the community can defray the costs through the endowment fund.
When Stone was OBR president the year Florence Moore died, three incidents came up that inspired her to work with Bodie on creating a new plan. A family in Bend called the OBR for help burying a family member.
A family in California called to say a Portland relative had died and the family needed help to arrange a burial. And a rabbi new to Southwest Washington put a double funeral on his credit card when he didn’t know where to turn for immediate assistance.
“We didn’t’ have any organized way of responding,” said Stone of the two calls she received. “I fell back on common sense and Jewish tradition and Debbi did the same.”
Bodie said for her it all goes back to her good friend Florence, who used to sit in the living room of CSP’s Robison Jewish Health Center and chat with Bodie daily.
When Moore died on Erev Shabbat and Erev Pesach (both of which required the burial be before sundown), Bodie called Neveh Shalom Executive Director Fred Rothstein and Holman’s Funeral Home.
Bodie said that Holman’s has been tremendously supportive of indigent burials for many years—“not asking for a dime.”
By 3 p.m. that day, a minyan gathered and Moore received a proper Jewish burial.
Now any Jew in Oregon and Southwest Washington has the assurance they will receive the same. Families should call their rabbi in the event of a death. Those without a rabbi should call Bodie at 503-423-7845.
Standard Jewish Burial
(As defined in Hesed Shel Emet Memo of Understanding)
Basic services of funeral director and staff
Arrangement conference with family or responsible party
Preparation and filing of authorizations and permits
Recording vital statistics
Coordinating arrangement with cemetery and/or other
parties involved with final disposition
Other operational business expenses
Transfer of remains to funeral home (mortuary ambulance)
Refrigeration, holding and care of un-embalmed remains
Use of equipment and staff for a funeral ceremony
Funeral vehicle and driver to transport casket to cemetery
State of Oregon Death Certificate filing fee
Traditional Nahum Orthodox Casket (Plain pine box)
Concrete sectional grave liner (required)
16” x 8” unpolished grave marker