When I was in 8th grade, a Catholic classmate asked me why the Jews killed Jesus. This was news to me! I always thought the Romans were responsible for the crucifying Jesus.
The Second Vatican Council documents issued in 1962 were supposed to change that opinion. Yet as of 1972, the message hadn’t gotten through to that young girl.
Now 50 years later, the Jewish-Christian Dialogue (JCD) is holding its Spring Colloquium with the topic “50 Years of Vatican II: Where Are We Now?” The Colloquium will examine the changing relationships between Jews and Christians since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of 1962 were introduced.
(Disclosure: I’m the VP of the JCD – see what happens when you start showing up to the monthly meetings? They make you an officer! I’d attended the Colloquium for years, but not the other get-togethers.)
The Colloquium will take place on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 with a daytime program with three presenters, (8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. breakfast and lunch included) and a separate evening talk with founders and early participants of the Jewish-Catholic Dialogue (7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.). Both events will be at Congregation B’nai Israel, 4401 Indian School Road NE, Albuquerque, NM.
The presenters are:
- Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Congregation Albert;
- Mary Frances Reza, representing the Archdiocese of Santa Fe;
- Rev. Wallace Ford, Disciples of Christ minister and past Executive Secretary of the New Mexico Conference of Churches.
The moderator is Rev. Judith Todd. Special guest speakers are Rabbi Paul Citrin and Rev. Ernest Falardeau, SSS, the founders of the Jewish-Catholic Dialogue. The name of the organization changed in 2012 to recognize the individuals from many other Christian denominations who were participating in the conversation.
Leslie Linthicum, the UpFront columnist with the Albuquerque Journal, did a nice story about Rabbi Citrin and Father Felardeau in Sunday’s newspaper. It starts out: “So a rabbi and a priest walk into a bar…” Read the story here.
The Interfaith Spring Colloquium is presented in association with the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Congregation Albert, Congregation B’nai Israel, New Mexico Anti-Defamation League, New Mexico Conference of Churches, and the Norbertine Community of New Mexico.
Topics to be considered include:
- As believers in the one God, how have we fulfilled that legacy?
- How have relationships between Jews and Christians changed over the past half-century?
- Where did we begin, where are we now, and where are we going in our quest for understanding?
- What do we need to do, as congregations and as individuals, to truly show respect and understanding for differing religious traditions?
These are the registration fees for the Colloquium:
Day Program Only: $40 (students $20) includes breakfast and lunch
Evening Program Only: $10 includes refreshments
Both Day and Evening Programs: $45
To make reservations, call Pam Fraser-Walters at 505-291-8115 or Betty Kohlman at 505-299-3807 by February 25.
Filed under: Religious Traditions | Tags: Certified Celebrants, funerals, memorial services, religion
This week, NPR is running a special series of stories titled Losing Our Religion. The content has serious implication for people facing loss, as today’s installment showed. This series shows why Certified Celebrants are a growing trend as officiants for funerals and memorial services.
After Tragedy, Nonbelievers Find Other Ways to Cope looks at the clash between atheists and the religious in the face of death, especially tragic, untimely ends.
Many have long turned to religion for solace in the aftermath of a tragedy, but that’s not an option for the nonreligious or those whose faith is destroyed by the event. For the nonreligious, dealing with trauma and loss often requires forging one’s own path.
One-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated — higher than at any time in recent U.S. history — and those younger than 30 especially seem to be drifting from organized religion. A third of young Americans say they don’t belong to any religion.
More Young People are Moving Away from Religion, But Why? offers thoughtful interviews with young people about their growing distance from organized religion.
On Monday, the series started with The Growth of the ‘Nones.’ As religious as this country may be, many Americans are not religious at all. The group of religiously unaffiliated – dubbed “nones”— has been growing. One-fifth of Americans say they’re nones, as are one in three under 30. They’re socially liberal and aren’t looking for an organized religion.
In October, the Pew Research Center released a study, ‘Nones’ on the Rise, that takes a closer look at the 46 million people who answered none to the religion question in 2012. According to Pew, one-fifth of American adults have no religious affiliation, a trend that has for years been on the rise.
A growing group without religion has implications for funerals and memorial services. A major life change such as a death in the family calls for some sort of recognition. Religion has served to provide the rituals for the “matchings, hatchings and dispatchings” of our lives. Top hits and traffic to this blog come in for the information on religious funeral traditions.
A rise in a search for independent ways to mark end-of-life cycle transitions could happen, just as baby boomers wrote their own wedding vows. But death might not engender the same passion for self-styled ceremony as weddings do.
NPR’s series continues through the week. Tune in for more good reporting!
Update: Here’s a great Pearls Before Swine cartoon that adds commentary to the series.
P.S.: The series’ title refers to the R.E.M. song “Losing My Religion” released in 1991.
Filed under: Religious Traditions | Tags: Certified Celebrants, funeral planning
A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).
What does that mean for funeral planning? When a family leaves religious tradition in the dust, they can get lost without rituals to inform their mourning. Certified Celebrants can help pull together a meaningful, memorable “good goodbye” when there’s a death in the family.
Even when a family isn’t religious, often they’ll engage the services of a clergy person to conduct a funeral. If the service becomes an extension of the religion rather than a reflection of the person who died, this can result in a sense of dissatisfaction with the funeral. Certified Celebrants make the service all about the deceased. They can weave in religion if that was a part of the person’s and if the family is so inclined. Learn more about Funeral Celebrant services.
Here’s more information about the Pew Research Center Study:
The new survey finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.
With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.
The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones. A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.
These generational differences are consistent with other signs of a gradual softening of religious commitment among some (though by no means all) Americans in recent decades. Pew Research Center surveys conducted over the last 10 years, for example, find modest growth in the number of people who say they seldom or never attend religious services, as well as a declining number who say they never doubt the existence of God.
The lesson here for funeral consumers and funeral directors: The younger generations have less religion. What rituals and symbols will take religion’s place when it comes to the life cycle event formerly known as a funeral? Certified Celebrants can help shape that conversation.
Click here to get the entire study from the Pew Research Center.
Filed under: Religious Traditions | Tags: cemeteries, cremation, Jewish traditions
Recently did a short YouTube video discussing some of the finer points of Reform Judaism, cremation and burial. In Congregation Albert’s cemetery, we have put in a new section between the drive and the historic section to provide resting places for the growing number of individuals choosing cremation. Check it out!
Filed under: Religious Traditions | Tags: funerals, Jewish traditions, rituals
The Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva,” where a family retreats to their home after a funeral to receive the support of their community for up to seven days, can be a source of confusion. There are so many traditional observances and rituals – covering mirrors, sitting low to the ground, prayers, food, what to do and not do, and on and on.
Sharon Rosen, founder of the registry website ShivaConnect.com, received a call from an elderly woman who said, “I’m 84 years old and I don’t know anything about shiva. How are my kids going to know?”
As with so many sources of information, the details of shiva are now available at your fingertips on the Internet. Rosen’s ShivaConnect website provides background on the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva and online tools to manage the whole megillah.
The key part of the site is a registry where families can record all the details that a supportive community would want to know: dates and addresses for visiting the family, prayer service times, minyan requests (to get a minimum of 10 people praying together), mailing addresses to send condolence cards to the mourners, memorial donations, and most importantly, managing food.
As Rosen puts it, “Jews and food – need I say more?” One of the more overwhelming aspects of being a mourner is managing the offers of platters of food to feed the people who come to the house to visit and participate in prayer services.
ShivaConnect helps sort out food requests – for how many, what kind, what days and times, and lets those who want to send food know what they can provide. The site has a database of delis around the country that will deliver platters.
Technology and Tradition
“We use today’s technology to assist people when immediacy is important. It lessens the overwhelm of calls and it increases memorial donations,” explains Rosen.
The tool goes out quickly via email, Facebook, or any way that families do their social networking. It helps let people know how to best express their condolences. It can also be an outreach tool for non-Jews and the non-observant, as well as an educational tool for hospice staff.
The use of the site is growing. Rosen has noticed some registry listings received hundreds of views as people check for information. “It is growing,” says Rosen. “People just need to know about it and find it at a time of stress.”
The site includes articles on what to expect, customs and prayers, etc. Rosen notes, “Knowing why something is done makes it more meaningful and they’ll participate when they understand. For example, there’s the tradition of having a shomer watch the body before the funeral. It’s comforting to know a loved one is being watched and prayed over.”
Resources include places to donate leftover food, poems, prayers, YouTube video of a rabbi reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, a funeral home finder, and veteran and Social Security benefits.
Rosen never expected to wind up doing this. When she faced the daunting challenge of coordinating a shiva after her mother died in July 2009, the idea for ShivaConnect was born.
“This has been an unexpected journey that’s been incredibly rewarding,” says Rosen. “It’s such a blessing to find my purpose in life, offering this service that touches so many people and helps when they really need it.”
Filed under: Religious Traditions | Tags: Certified Celebrants, funerals, poems
In a recent conversation, a friend questioned if there is life after this lifetime. Religious traditions across the spectrum of East to West speak of the eternal soul. Personally, I do believe the spirit continues on, beyond this physical plane.
Doug Manning, the founder of the Insight Institute who brought Certified Celebrant training to the United States, comes from a background as a Baptist minister. He told a story of having a conversation with someone who didn’t believe in a life after this life. Manning’s reply: “Well, one of us will be very surprised when we get there.”
This poem, which I’ve heard at a number of funerals, appeared recently in a local obituary for a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer. It’s an apt metaphor for the concept of what happens when the physical body dies and the spirit departs this sphere of perception.
A Parable of Immortality by Henry Van Dyke:
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch until at last she hangs
like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
“There she goes!”
Gone from my sight . . . that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment
when someone at my side says,
“There she goes!”
there are other eyes watching her coming . . .
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . .
“Here she comes!”
Filed under: Religious Traditions | Tags: grieving, Jewish traditions, mourning, shiva
Yesterday’s New York Times had a “This Life” column in the Sunday Styles section by Bruce Feiler titled Mourning in a Digital Age. It explored how old traditions for mourning and grieving are impacted by our busy modern age, Facebook and email and how new traditions could be formed.
Of special interest is how he suggests a secular use of the shiva period of mourning, a Jewish tradition where the family retreats to the home for a week and receives the support of their community. Many contemporary Jews are shortening the number of days they retreat for this mourning period, if they are observing it at all.
Shiva (or shivah, depending on who’s doing the translation) is the Hebrew word for seven. The traditional seven-day shiva mourning period is rife with rules – no shaving or bathing for pleasure, no sex, no leaving the house (except for Shabbat services), no wearing of leather shoes, no expressions of joy, and no greeting of visitors. Mirrors and photos are covered, prayer services are held in the home, and mourners sit on low chairs or cushions.
Feiler’s article talks about bringing community together in support of the mourners, without all these rules. Notable differences of the secular shiva from the Jewish traditions that were crucial for their success include:
- Create the event for both Jews and non-Jews
- Avoid holding prayer services or any other religious rituals
- Hold the event away from the home of the griever to reduce the burden of “hosting”
- Offer the mourner the opportunity to speak about the deceased, something not customarily done at a Jewish funeral.
A few pointers on pulling such events together:
- Don’t wait for the griever to plan
- Make the event by invitation only
- Ask the mourner if he or she would like to share any stories about the deceased
- Unite a circle of friends to find comfort in a crowd
Feiler ended the piece saying:
“Six months after my string of losses began, it hardly feels over. What I’ve taken away from the experience is a reminder of what I’ve seen often in looking at contemporary religion. Rather than chuck aside time-tested customs in favor of whiz-bang digital solutions, a freshening of those rituals is often more effective. Our “secular shivas” took some advantages of the Internet (e-mail organizing, ordering food online); coupled them with some oft-forgotten benefits of slowing down and reuniting; and created a nondenominational, one-size-doesn’t-fit-all tradition that can be tinkered to fit countless situations.
Like all such traditions, they may not soften the blow of a loss, but they had the unmistakable boon of reaffirming the community itself.”
Filed under: Religious Traditions | Tags: Hmong funerals, Jewish traditions, memorial markers
It’s rare to find a headstone maker who specializes in artistic memorial markers for Jews and Hmong. Heck, it’s rare to find anyone making Hmong funeral products in the United States, period.
The Katzman Monument Company, founded in 1935, was started in Minneapolis by Jacob “Jack” Katzman. He immigrated from Eastern Europe in 1913 at the age of 15 and served his newly adopted country in World War I. He entered the Minneapolis Institute of Art to study fine arts when he was 21.
After honing his skills, he started as an apprentice for local monument companies in Minneapolis before starting his own company in his backyard. Jack and his wife Bertha ran Katzman Monument Company for 50 years.
Jack established himself as the leader in the monument and marker industry by meticulously designing each monument and marker by hand. His work was known for unique and quality lettering, symbols and designs, both religious and secular. In 1981, with no one to take over the business, Jack reluctantly closed the company’s doors and retired from his life’s work. He died in the late 1980s.
Jack’s grandchildren have re-discovered his one-of-a-kind lettering, artwork and style and brought it back with the technological advances of the 21st century. Norm Taple, who joked he’s a lawyer by day, monument maker by night, and his brother Loren started the new Katzman Monument Company, LLC.
This new Katzman Monument Company uses the interactive abilities of the Internet to allow anyone anywhere to design a marker and share the process with family members, no matter where they live.
Through their website, KatzmanMonument.com, families have the ability to cut and paste elements to create a design, and share it electronically with anyone in the world. The client first sees a scale rendering of the final design and gives their approval before production gets underway.
Once finalized, the designed marker is created and shipped to the cemetery for installation. Their staff works to make sure a marker design conforms to the rules and regulations of the destination cemetery.
Since Katzman operates virtually online, it avoids costs associated with a physical storefront. Minnesota quarries about one-third of the granite used in the United States, and Katzman’s in-state manufacturer, Rex Granite, has been in business for 90 years. Both offer superior memorial products at reasonable prices.
In addition to the monuments and markers they design and produce, Katzman Monument Company also offers urns of metal, marble, stone, and ceramics. They also produce memorial markers for pets.
Katzman offers a downloadable PDF with several pages of information about Jewish monuments, Hebrew lettering, typical symbols, and traditions relating to unveiling ceremonies. You can find more information through this link to their website.
The company also has a web page for Hmong funeral and memorial traditions. The Hmong, who began immigrating from Southeast Asia in large numbers to Minnesota about 25 years ago, have many traditions related to funerals. Their funeral rituals can stretch on for three to four days.
Katzman has a team member who is well-versed in Hmong culture, traditions, language and the monument industry. Moua Soua owned two Hmong funeral homes for over a decade and is one of the largest importers of thwj-suab caskets from Laos.
And in keeping with their goal to bring monuments into the 21st century, Katzman has just launched an Interactive Memorial product. This is a 1.5″ x 1.5″ weather-proof QR code that adheres to any type of memorial.
Once scanned by a smartphone or tablet, the holder of the phone or tablet is routed to a personalized web page created by the family. This personalized web site can feature information about the decedent, a family tree, unlimited photos and unlimited videos that the family can upload and edit.
The Interactive Memorial option is included free with a purchase of a human monument or marker from Katzman or can be purchased as a stand-alone product for $100.00 (plus tax), if the family’s memorial already exists or the product that is purchased from Katzman is an urn.
While they are based in Minnesota, Katzman works with families all across the United States. If you decide to check them out and use their services, let them know Gail Rubin with The Family Plot Blog sent you!
Filed under: Guest Blog Posts, Religious Traditions | Tags: cremation, Hindu, religion
Ellen Leitzer had the opportunity to witness a Hindu funeral in Nepal and wrote the following incredibly detailed description. I am honored that she agreed to share her insights in today’s guest post.
Rita died early yesterday morning from pneumonia and sepsis at Tribhuvan University’s Teaching Hospital, one of Kathmandu’s public hospitals. Her medical care and the hospital’s sanitary conditions were extraordinarily sub-standard and contributed to her death.
I spent a good part of the last 45 days advocating for her within Kathmandu’s public health care system based on ongoing information provided to me by physician friends in New Mexico. I am so grateful for the help and support of Drs. David Wachter and Aroop Mangalik.
According to Hindu custom, Rita was taken by ambulance from the hospital to be cremated at Pashupatinath, an important Hindu temple site along the banks of the sacred (and very polluted) Bagmati River. The Bagmati flows downstream into India’s Ganges River.
Sheri, my Canadian friend who introduced me to Rita, and I reached the hospital at 7:30 AM and sat by Rita’s shroud-covered body in a hospital courtyard with Rita’s husband and other male relatives until the ambulance arrived. We then boarded a dilapidated, rented bus and headed to the funeral site.
Rita has four daughters and one son. Her daughters and female relatives were not allowed to attend her funeral. Little did I think that almost two months ago when I visited Pashupatinath as a tourist that I would return to witness the cremation of a friend.
Rita received a first-class funeral ceremony. Her body was covered by an orange-and-red shroud, over which a red powder was sprinkled. Butter candles and incense burned nearby and then we all paid our respects by placing marigolds on top of her corpse. She was then hoisted onto the funeral pyre.
A Brahmin priest blew a conch shell three times as her grieving 19-year old son Saroj circled her body holding a burning wick that would be used to light the ghee that had been poured on top of the shroud. Saroj was to have placed the wick into her mouth, a starting point for the cremation, but he was not up to the task. At that point the Brahmin priest took over.
Once the fire started, bundles of hay were placed around and on top of Rita’s body and the flames consumed her. (Throughout the ceremony cell phones with their varied tones continued to ring and be answered despite the solemnity of the occasion.)
Sheri and I left Pashupatinath while Rita’s body was still burning and made our way to her home 20 kilometers south of Kathmandu by micro-bus and bus. Rita’s home is on the outskirts of a small village that is surrounded by rice paddies. As Sheri and I approached the home we saw scores of women dressed in red sitting cross-legged on the porch and roof. Rita’s daughters were distraught and friends and family attempted to console them.
At one point a 24-year old cousin came to pay her respects but did not enter the house. This delightful young woman, whom I had met a few days earlier at Teaching Hospital, informed me that she was menstruating and therefore was unclean so could not enter the home nor touch anyone.
When she left I gave her a big hug and said that I was not a Hindu and felt fine about touching her. (In rural areas, menstruating women are forced to sleep in cow-sheds with the livestock. It is not uncommon for adolescent girls to be molested by local men on such occasions.)
I learned a lot about Rita today. She was married at the age of 15, raised five truly wonderful children, and became an active community leader as a member of the Nepali Congress Party. She also ran a small NGO that focused on helping women.
Rita’s home was built as the result of her hard work. She earned money working for other farmers and built the family home 11 years ago with the proceeds from her labor. Her most recent project, that is not yet completed, was adding an indoor bathroom to the home. Rita’s husband, who was orphaned at the age of 3, works at Kathmandu’s Maternity Hospital.
Late in the afternoon Saroj and the family’s male relatives approached the home, single file through the rice paddies. They had stopped at a holy pond nearby where Saroj was bathed and then dressed in white garments and a turban – his head had been shaved. He was wearing sandals made of straw and carried a copper urn that contained holy water.
Saroj sat alone on the porch while the men prepared a room for him. He is unable to touch anyone for 13 days, must sleep on a bed of hay, and prepare his own food – rice (without salt), fruit and water. During this time Saroj must spend his days in prayer to ensure the safe passage of his mother’s soul into the Otherworld.
Saroj is very concerned about the uncertain future that his two unmarried sisters face. When a death occurs the family is considered unlucky and no one wants to marry into such a family.
I was also reminded of how under-valued women are in Nepal. One woman, Dhana, who came to pay her respects, is also active in the Nepali Congress Party. Dhana is educated and a woman of means. Her two sons were educated in the U.S. and work abroad.
She begged the Party to give money to Rita so that she could receive medical care in a private hospital or even India where the care is better and more advanced. Rita had done so much for the Party, I was told, yet the Party did nothing for her. Dhana said that had Rita been a man, the Party would have contributed a considerable amount to the cost of her medical care, including paying for care in India.
A wonderful story recently appeared in The Chicago Tribune about how to conduct the Jewish rituals for a tahara. Here’s the start of the story by Barbara Brotman, which ran in conjunction with a Chicago area convention of Chevra Kaddisha volunteers.
Tahara: Respect for the dead and comfort for the living
Traditional Jewish ritual of preparing a body for burial is making a comeback with liberal congregations
On the table lay a human form covered by a white sheet. A small group of people gathered around. Nisan Chavkin, steering committee chairman of the Progressive Chevra Kadisha, led them through the ritual.
First the body was to be washed, gently but thoroughly, with most of it kept draped for modesty.
Water was to be poured onto the body from three plastic buckets in a continuous stream: The first bucket poured over one side, moving from the head down to the feet; the second up the other side, the third down over the middle.
As they poured, the group would say, in Hebrew: “She is pure. She is pure. She is pure.”
When that was done, group members carefully pulled loose white pants and a tunic over the body and tied them with strips of cloth around the waist and ankles.
Now the body — actually a volunteer helping at a training demonstration — was ritually cleansed according to Jewish tradition. And now members of Congregation Or Chadash, the latest congregation to join the Progressive Chevra Kadisha (PCK), were ready to perform the ritual of “tahara,” considered one of the most meaningful and selfless in Judaism.
The Jewish practice of washing and dressing a body for burial, a solid presence in traditional Jewish communities, is rarely practiced by liberal Jews. But in recent years, some of those communities have been reclaiming it.
The PCK was established by four Chicago-area congregations in 2005. Anshe Emet, a Conservative congregation on the North Side, and Congregation Hakafa, in Glenview, each started a chevra kadisha, or sacred society, three years ago.
“It’s an ancient custom that is coming back in non-Orthodox Jewish life,” Chavkin said.
The cleansing ritual will be the focus of a national meeting being held Sunday through Tuesday at the Doubletree Hotel & Conference Center Chicago North Shore in Skokie.
At the ninth annual Chevra Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, more than 100 registrants from across the U.S. and Canada will attend sessions that include a tahara demonstration and talks on emotional reactions, how to work with medical examiners and tahara for transgender people.
The ritual is performed by laypeople, men washing men, women washing women. PCK members take monthly turns on call, carrying a beeper. “It’s kind of like a volunteer fire department,” Chavkin said.