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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12. Participate in the ritual at graveside. Those officiating at graveside will say sev­eral prayers; respond in the appropriate places. At the end of the service, the casket may be lowered and friends invited to place dirt into the grave. Normally, the offi­ciants begin this ritual, followed by the mourners and their family members. Then, you can take a place in line to do this most meaningful and important mitzvah. When your turn arrives, pick up a handful of dirt with your hands or with a shovel and place it into the grave. Some do this three times. Place the shovel back into the pile of dirt; do not hand it to the next person.

13. Offer your condolences. As the mourners leave the grave site, form two rows in the crowd creating a path for their exit. As they pass, say the ancient words of conso­lation, "Ha-Makom yenahem etkhem b'tokh sha ar aveilei Tzion vYerushalayim--may the Omnipresent comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Generally, you do not approach the mourners at this time. If you do, they must acknowledge your presence rather than cope with their own grief. Of course, if the mourner reaches out to you, respond with a hug and an additional word of condolence.

14. Visit the graves of family and friends. Since you are already at the cemetery, take the opportunity to visit the graves of family members and friends. Besides being a wonderful mitzvahthis will give the mourners time to return to the shiva home before visitors arrive. It should be noted, however, that in some communities, it is emphatically not the custom to visit the graves of others when attending a funeral.

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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.