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Thursday, July 31, 2014

IAJGS Conference: Funeral and Mourning Ceremonies of Our Ancestors

The topic of this presentation at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, reminds me of my Mesa City Cemetery Project. During the course of that project, I learned a lot about cemeteries and cemetery records that I never imagined. I realized that, as a genealogist, ignorance of the burial process and all the records associated with the burial process would lead us to be entirely unaware of the potential documents available for research.

The present topic is presented by Rabbi Gary M. Gans, described as follows:
How did our ancestors handle the reality of death and mourning? What laws and customs were they likely to have observed? Did they tear their clothes, eat certain foods, cover mirrors, sit on the floor, or say the Mourner's Kaddish for an extended time? Some stories were "Bubbe Meises," old tales of our grandmothers that were superstitions. But others had psychological and religious merit. Were these just nostalgic vestiges of life long ago? Many of us now identify with our previous generations and would hope to emulate their spiritual world. Perhaps we might want to reincorporate some of our ancestor's practices back into our own lives! Participants will also learn about regional differences and customs, & will also have opportunities to share personal experiences.
One of the impressive things about this particular conference is that all of the presenters have extensive credentials and Rabbi Gans is no exception:
Gary Gans was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and has been the rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah, Marlton, NJ since 1981.He earned his Doctorate from Eastern Baptist Theological seminary in Family Counseling, a rare honor for a Jew! Gans is also a licensed therapist in NJ, specializing in family relationships, grief, and the impact of life-cycle events.He is on the Board of Directors of the Crescent Cemetery, Pennsauken, NJ and past president of the Tri-County Board of Rabbis. Gary has presented at previous IAJGS conferences, as well as in the Southern New Jersey Jewish and interfaith communities.
Jewish burial tradition was that the body was placed directly in the dirt, so there are some traditional issues with the modern metal coffin styles. The important thing is that the body be put in contact with earth. There are such traditions in all cultures and it is important that the family select a funeral director that is sensitive to the cultural background of the family. In Jewish tradition, the body of the deceased was always covered. The body was washed and clothed in special garments.

I was struck by some of the similarities and many of the differences of the traditions with my own cultural background. It would be interesting to research how our own traditions arose and whether or not the common tradition in the rural parts of the U.S. in the 1800s had an effect on the traditions now present among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But I am sure that modern, commercial funeral practices have dramatically altered my own cultural traditions in many ways.

See some of the following references:

This entire week has been a wonderful opportunity for learning. 

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