As Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, I encourage parents to have their child named in the synagogue at a Shabbat service. If that is not possible, I will conduct a ceremony in the parents’ home on the assumption that the child will receive a Jewish upbringing. I help the parents decide on what the child’s Hebrew name will be and provide them with a copy of the ceremony in advance that includes participation by parents and grandparents. The ceremony can take place on any day of the week.
My goal with every wedding is to create a warm relationship with each couple and to conduct a ceremony that will be personalized, enjoyable, and meaningful.
I meet with couples four times between the day on which we confirm that I will be officiating at the ceremony and the day of the ceremony. While I prefer to do so in person, we can also “meet” on the phone or via Face Time. For the first session, I ask the couple to send me their “story”—how they met, fell in love, and got engaged. We also talk about the details of the ceremony—time, place, wedding party, chupah, ketubah, Kiddush cup, music, photography, etc. Prior to the second session, I provide a copy of the wedding ceremony so that the couple is aware of its content. While I won’t change it, I offer the opportunity for personal vows and traditional customs, such as the circling of the groom by the bride (or the contemporary custom of the bride and groom circling each other). During the third session, we talk about the “homework assignment” I give to the couple at the end of the second session—making a list of the reasons that he/she loves the person that will become their spouse. I tell them not to share their list with one another because I want them to hear it for the first time when we are meeting. For the fourth session, the couple collaborates in writing what it will mean to them to have “a Jewish home.”
Throughout this process—no matter how long it is—I am available for questions and consultation by phone, email, or text (especially to provide help with choosing a ketubah).
In collaboration with the funeral home, we decide on the day and time for the funeral. When I speak to the family, I go through a checklist that includes information about the deceased, his/her Hebrew name, names of the family members, who will be delivering a eulogy, what the shiva plans will be, and to which organization the family would prefer that donations be given. I get in touch with the family in person, by phone, or by email.
On the day of the funeral, I arrive at least half-an-hour in advance to greet the family and go over last-minute details. We tear the shiva ribbons prior to the service, which consists of prayers in Hebrew and in English. Eulogies follow those prayers and the service concludes with the reciting of the El Malei Rachamim (God Full of Compassion) prayer. Assuming that the service has been held at the funeral home or in a synagogue, we proceed to the cemetery afterwards. For graveside services, I combine Hebrew and English prayers and provide sufficient time for eulogies.
At the cemetery, the family members are given the choice of whether they want to see the casket lowered into the grave. If not, they remain in their cars as this is done, and then we proceed with the ceremony. There are only a few prayers recited at the grave, and the last one is the Mourner’s Kaddish. Cards with the Hebrew words and the transliteration are available for each person. Then, we participate in the custom of putting dirt into the grave. I explain why we do it and demonstrate exactly how to do it. When the family leaves, we form two lines to express condolences to the family.
Unveiling ceremonies are usually scheduled in advance, and take place between six months to a year after the funeral, although doing it beyond a year is possible if necessary. I am available to consult with families regarding the spelling of Hebrew names or any other question that cannot be answered by the company making the stone.
The ceremony itself is deliberately short—usually ten to fifteen minutes long—with no eulogies given. I provide Kaddish cards and yarmulkes and ask the family to bring a cover for the tombstone.