Going to a Jewish Funeral

Bad news, unfortunately, travels fast. It can be helpful to know in advance what to do when attending a Jewish funeral.


Reprinted with permission from A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort (Jewish Lights).

You will hear about a funeral. Bad news travels fast. And the news of a funeral travels at the speed of light. You will likely get a phone call from someone. Or in a true sign of advancing age, you may have reached that time in your life when you regularly read the obituary column in the newspaper.

Once you hear the news, here are the steps to follow in attending a funeral:

1. Decide whether you’re going. Since there is often such short notice of a funeral, you may very well need to clear your calendar or make the necessary arrangements to attend the service. Most employers are understanding and will allow jewish mourneryou time off to attend a funeral. If you have young children, you may need to arrange childcare. If you don’t drive, you may need to ask someone for transportation to the funeral.

2. Dress appropriately. Proper attire for a funeral is a dress for women and a coat and tie for men. (It is generally customary for men to wear a head covering, called a kippah or yarmulke, during a funeral and burial. In some liberal congregations, this applies to both men and women; in others, head coverings are rare even for men. These will generally be available at the funeral home or cemetery.)

3. Arrive early. Funerals almost always start exactly on time. Try to arrive at the site sometime between a half-hour to a few minutes before the announced time.

4. Follow directions. A funeral director will tell you where to sit or stand for the service. S/he may give you an attendance card to fill out or ask you to sign a guest book when you enter the chapel. Write your name and, if you wish, a brief message of condolence.

5. Do not greet the mourners. With few exceptions, now is not the time to approach the mourners. They will either be in a “waiting room,” seated in the front pews, or exiting from a car at graveside when the service is about to begin. As much as you want to reach out to comfort them, this is not the time. You may want them to know you are there. That’s what the guest book is for, or let them know how you reacted to the eulogy when you see them during a shiva call. If you are very, very close family or friends, it may be appropriate to see the mourn­ers before the service begins or approach them after the graveside service.

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Dr. Ron Wolfson, visionary educator and inspirational speaker, is Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a cofounder of Synagogue 3000.

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