One of just a handful of non-profit Jewish funeral homes in the country, the Jewish Memorial Chapel in Clifton, established in 1921, has been there for Northern New Jersey communities for 100 years. Since 1949, it has been known as the Jewish Memorial Chapel (JMC).
Although non-denominational, JMC is governed by delegates and an executive committee consisting of members of a wide cross-section of the Northern New Jersey Jewish community, and adheres strictly to Orthodox Halacha and minhag regarding the preparation and treatment of the deceased. Its licensed professional staff, supported by a community of dedicated volunteers, assures proper tahara and shemira, the spiritual guardianship provided by a shomer, while in the funeral home and until the burial. JMC has also invested in special features required to facilitate the tahara procedure. Also unique to the Jewish Memorial Chapel is a separate Kohain chapel, linked by two-way video so Kohanim may meaningfully participate in services.
As a not-for-profit organization, JMC can offer a professional, respectful service at a cost-effective price. To that end, prices are reviewed annually to ensure that they provide an economical alternative to other funeral homes, while maintaining fiscal responsibility. The JMC provides a kosher funeral for anyone of the Jewish faith, regardless of their financial means. This ethic has been an extraordinarily successful and compelling mission, evidenced by its uninterrupted operations over the past century. And finally, in accordance with its charitable mission, JMC distributes surplus funds as donations to local institutions that assist Jewish education, the elderly and other community charitable causes.
The Jewish Link asked about the idea of pre-arranging for Jewish funerals, a topic that understandably, many people find difficult to address.
Dr. Carl Singer, past president and longtime JMC board member and Jewish Link liaison for the centennial commemoration, said, “Funerals are ideally done expeditiously. Many can speak to the halacha but are unaware of the nuts and bolts of a proper funeral. I recall a rabbi calling on a winter Friday morning telling us that an indigent individual died and ‘must be buried before sundown.’ The chapel made it happen, of course. We contacted a synagogue which donated a grave. Volunteers left work early to assure a proper tahara. We donated the tachrichim (kosher burial shrouds) and casket. We have an excellent working relationship with many local cemeteries, and they came through. The chapel reduced the funeral costs to meet the financial situation.”
JMC’s executive director, William Rose, also noted that when someone dies without pre-arrangements, the family is forced to make many decisions in a state of emotional distress and under the added pressure of time. In addition to the details of the funeral itself, there are numerous other considerations about family and timing, sometimes including travel and out- of-town burial sites. Sometimes Shabbat or Yom Tov issues are involved. For example, should a levaya be delayed for the arrival of a family member living in Israel?
Another question can be whether there is a cemetery plot. JMC’s president, Mark Lurie, noted that New Jersey strictly regulates funeral homes. Under New Jersey law, funeral homes are restricted by law from owning burial plots and cemeteries. If the deceased did not have a plot, one needs to be purchased, which can be a difficult task on short notice or during a holiday. Questions may also arise as to whether a spouse or other family member will need an adjacent grave.
To minimize some of the stress, JMC recommends that most of the decisions be made ahead of time and filed for use in the future. Family members can discuss what’s important to them and the necessary purchases, such as cemetery space. Decisions can be reviewed and modified as appropriate. Documentation such as grave ownership, veteran status, etc., can be secured.
Another option, said Rose, is a pre-paid arrangement. Some costs can be paid ahead of time. “Funds can be placed into an interest-bearing, FDIC-insured, government-monitored trust. This may have tax advantages—or simply removes the cost burden from loved ones. Funds are transferable should circumstances dictate choosing a different funeral home.” In other words, the funding is portable, should circumstances change.
The Jewish Link asked Rose about how out-of-town funerals are handled. “We recommend that a local New Jersey funeral home be contacted first. The local funeral home will cooperate with an out-of-town funeral home to assure that arrangements are appropriate and well-coordinated. In that regard, for example, we have excellent relations with a number of funeral homes in Florida.”
Rose also noted that “burial in Israel is a special situation. We have an outstanding working relationship with an organization that facilitates such burials. We do our part here to arrange for transport to the airport for a flight to Israel for burial.” If a family knows ahead of time that burial in Israel is preferred or assumed; it is helpful to gather pertinent information and documentation ahead of time and create a file, rather than scrambling to find it later and under difficult circumstances.
Although JMC was formally founded in 1921, its roots lie deeper. In 1892 Congregation B’nai Jacob of Passaic purchased land on Passaic Avenue in Lodi which became the first Jewish cemetery in Passaic-Clifton. To conform with a tradition that the first person buried should be a pious Jew; the community brought in a Chicagoan named Yudel who met this high standard. He was 102 years old at the time, so everyone thought that his days were numbered. When he reached 114, he asked for an increase in his allowance because he was considering marriage! The community declined because they felt it would be more than they could afford if he lived many more years. He passed away at the age of 116.
In 1907, the Passaic United Hebrew Burial Association was established, also known as the Chevra Kadisha. They purchased a hearse, and a funeral director was hired to meet state regulations. In 1921, the Jewish Memorial Chapel was founded. Land was purchased on Howe Avenue in Passaic and a modern chapel was built there, which served the community for decades. When the need for a more convenient location and parking became apparent, a new chapel was built and dedicated in January of 1999 on Allwood Road, its current location.
The Jewish Memorial Chapel wishes to express appreciation to the volunteers of the Passaic-Clifton Chevra Kadisha for their tireless efforts in assuring that all who come into the care of the Jewish Memorial Chapel are afforded the dignified sensitivity and attention to the halachic detail prescribed by our tradition.
Jewish Memorial Chapel is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by phone 973-779-3048 (answering service on Shabbat and holidays) or via their website at www.JewishMemorialChapel.org