Funeral Practices Yom Iyun

On March 22nd, 2017, the Funeral Practices Committee of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California sponsored an engaging day of learning entitled, “Underground L.A: Burial & Mourning in Changing Times.” The keynote presentation was given by Reb Dr. Mimi Feigelson, the Maspiah Ruchanit (spiritual mentor) and Lecturer of Rabbinic Literature and Chassidic Thought at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She spoke poignantly of the need to plan for ones’ one funeral – to write the final chapter of the book of one’s life.

Following the keynote, Reb Feigelson taught a second session entitled “Observations of a Rebellious Daughter: Psycho-Spiritual Preparation for Shiva. She movingly described her experience of mourning for her father and how to help others prepare for Shiva (the traditional week of mourning after the death of a family member.

A second breakout session on Shiva was offered by Rabbi Anne Brener, author of Mourning & Mitzvah and Professor of Ritual & Human Development at the Academy of Jewish Religion. Rabbi Brener shared traditional Jewish texts as well as her own writings about Shiva in her session entitled, “Shifting Shiva: A Week of Transformation for the Mourner, the Community and the Deceased.”

Another topic addressed in the breakout sessions was “Crafting Funerals for Today’s Jewish Families.” This session was taught by Rabbi Mark Hyman, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Tikvat Jacob Beth Torah of Manhattan Beach and Jenna Moerk, the Director of Hillside Mortuary and Immediate Past President of the LA county Funeral Directors Association.

The third topic of the breakout session was “Final Choices: Grappling with Cost and Tradition.” This panel discussion was taught by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Rector of the American Jewish University and Chair of the Conservative Movements Committee on Jewish Law & Standards, Rabbi Wendy Spears, Paul Goldstein, General Manager of Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, Len Lawrence, General Manager, Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries, and Jolene Mason, General Manager of Eden Memorial Park/Groman Eden Mortuary. This discussion address Jewish funeral trends and the ethical issues which result from these trends.

This day of study was attended by rabbis of every denomination from throughout Southern California as well as chaplains, and mortuary representatives. After all the presentations, the group gathered for a discussion moderated by Board of Rabbis President, Rabbi Jason Weiner, about the implications of the day’s learning for the future. Those in attendance benefited from a rich day of learning and discussion about these crucial topics.