11 Aug A Tisha B’Av Funeral
Erev Tisha B’Av, August 6, 2003. I am in the summer learning program at camp. It’s been an amazing summer so far. As we approach the solemn day of Tisha B’Av, friends from the city and around have joined us in the camp to spend the next 25 hours in prayer and contemplation.
However, around 1 PM, we begin to hear a rumor. What? Judah died? Our friend Judah, a counselor in a neighboring camp, had passed away that morning. He woke up, got his campers off to prayers, wasn’t feeling well and lay down again. He never woke up. Judah was a Tzadik. A pure person who loved everyone.
The next day, on Tisha B’Av, we woke up early, prayed quickly and drove to Monsey for Judah’s funeral. It was the Tisha B’Av without any kinnost, lamentations, as none were necessary. In what was a crazy day, we returned to camp with just one hour left in the fast.
Fast forward 5 or 6 years and HFBA assumed management of the JCC of Spring Valley Cemetery in Rockland County. One day after speaking at a school in Monsey, I go visit the cemetery. I instantly recognize the cemetery complex as the site of Judah’s grave. I spend the next 15 minutes walking up and down the rows, and finally, I find my friend’s grave.
Now, every time I am at that cemetery, I stop and pay my respects. I’ve told Judah’s mom, that in my capacity, I have the merit to represent his friends, who don’t “hang out” in cemeteries, at his gravesite. That is an obligation I take seriously.
The Torah tells us about Yaakov (Jacob) marking graves. It’s repeated in the Prophets, and is codified by the Rambam (Maimonides). The Rambam teaches that we should not delay a funeral overnight. BUT, he includes a disclaimer, if it’s for the honor of the deceased, or for the deceased’s needs, we can delay the funeral.
Everything we do at Hebrew Free Burial Association is for the honor of the deceased. I constantly remind our dedicated staff that because of their work, Jewish people are being buried with dignity and respect. And because of our dedicated donors, we can continue to perform the sacred mitzvah of chesed shel emet.
As I’ve mentioned many times, the obligation we have towards the deceased does not end with the buried. We’ve forged a sacred covenant with our clients. We promise that not only will we bury you with dignity, we’ll care for your gravesite with respect as well. Just as my friend Judah rests in a well maintained grave, marked with a monument, we ensure that anyone buried by HFBA will rest in a marked grave, remembered and acknowledged as a person who lived on this earth.