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.

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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.

6. Talk softly. In the minutes before the service, as people come in and see friends and relatives, a low rumble of conversation develops. Often, the coffin is already in the room. Try to talk softly and appropriately. This is definitely not a time for swap­ping jokes or boisterous talk.

7. Participate in the service. The rabbi and/or cantor will lead the congregation in prayer during the service. Reply with "Amen" at the appropriate times. Participate in any responsive readings.  [If you are not familiar with when to do so, follow the example of those around you. Those who are not Jewish should participate only as they are comfortable.] React as you may to the eulogy--it is designed to touch you emotionally. Bring a handkerchief or tissues--like weddings, it's not unusual to cry at a funeral, even if the deceased was not well-known to you.

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Dr. Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University and the president of Synagogue 3000.