Book of Life is a guide to our practices around dying, death, and grieving. This book is the culmination of many months of work by CBI’s Cemetery Committee.
Death is the great unknown at the end of every life. While this booklet can’t guide you beyond that mystery, it offers guidance and instruction for the time leading up to a death, and for the path which mourners walk afterwards. Here you will find information about how to prepare (logistically and spiritually) for death, and what should be done by the family of one who has died.
If this booklet raises questions for you, either logistical or spiritual, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
I wish you every blessing.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
In cases of serious illness, when the person may not recover, it is proper to notify the rabbi, no matter what the time of day or night. The rabbi is here to serve you and your family by providing comfort, counseling, and appropriate prayers for the dying.
When Death Occurs
When there is a death, whether local or outside the North Adams area, please immediately notify the rabbi, the congregation (413-663-5830), or Flynn & Dagnolli Funeral Home (413-663-6523). In most cases, the rabbi will meet with members of the family as soon as possible to counsel them through the funeral process and to learn their wishes.
Planning the Funeral
In Jewish tradition, funerals take place as soon after death as possible, usually one or two days. However, there often are circumstances that require some delay – particularly the need to wait for out-of-town relatives to arrive. Jewish tradition requires that funerals not take place on Shabbat and holidays. Funeral services can take place either in the synagogue followed by internment at the cemetery, or the entire service can take place in the cemetery by the graveside.
Directions to Beth Israel Cemetery
The cemetery is always open to the public. It is located on a beautiful hillside overlooking the Berkshire Mountains. From State Road (Rte. 2) in downtown North Adams, travel east. At the intersection with Main St. and Walker St., turn sharply left (north) onto Walker St. Stay on Walker St. for about a mile. (You will enter the town of Clarksburg). The cemetery is on the left just by Brooks Heights, which is on the right. For a map, click here
Many people are anxious about being a host in their home right after suffering a loss. However, the custom of sitting shiva is intended to be a source of comfort, not anxiety. Mourners in shiva need not act as hosts; rather, it is the community that hosts and cares for the mourners in their own home. Shiva usually begins with a “Meal of Comfort,” which gives the community its first chance to express condolences. While shiva usually is observed for seven days – a practice that is encouraged when possible – some choose to shorten it to fewer days. Shiva also may be shortened by the occurrence of a Jewish holiday.
Advice for Visitors
It is not appropriate to make condolence calls to mourners before the funeral. However, attending funerals and paying shiva visits are among the most important mitzvot (sacred obligations) of Jewish life. A visit to a shiva house is usually not long – an hour or so. Weekday services are usually held in a shiva house, often including an opportunity for mourners and visitors to share remembrances. It is appropriate to bring food, but not flowers. As a visitor to a shiva house, allow the mourners to set the tone. Conversation, storytelling, laughter, tears and silence can all be appropriate at a shiva house when they are initiated by mourners. Your job as a visitor is to be present and caring.
Our congregation is served by a Chevra Kadisha (burial society) of members who volunteer for this honor. The Chevra Kadisha consists of two groups – one for men and one for women – who undertake the sacred task of preparing the dead for burial in the ritual of taharah. We encourage all Jewish members of CBI to volunteer to serve in this sacred obligation. For more information, see our Chevra Kaddisha page here.
Monuments and Unveilings
The Cemetery Committee should be consulted before a monument is ordered to assure that it is of appropriate size and style. An unveiling ceremony is customary one year after death. It is a meaningful opportunity for family to gather in remembrance. Contact the rabbi at least a month before the desired date to arrange for an unveiling.
We maintain separate sections of the cemetery where Jews and non-Jews may be buried together and sections in which only Jews may be buried. Non-denominational funeral services for non-Jewish members may be conducted in the synagogue and at our cemetery.
Reservation of Plots
Cemetery plots may be reserved by members of CBI only for a $750 fee. Reserved plots may be used for the purchaser, a spouse or minor children.