THE STORY BEHIND THE COST OF A FUNERAL
(this article was originally published in the Alberta Jewish News July 13, 2023)
The Chevra Kadisha of Calgary has always been a proponent of pre-purchasing a burial plot in advance of need, as this frees the grieving family from making some difficult decisions at a time of great stress. It relieves the family of the decision of where the deceased wishes their final resting place to be, and it also eases one of the financial burdens of the total funeral cost.
As a not for profit society, the Chevra Kadisha is Calgary’s only community organization dedicated to providing end of life care to all members of the Jewish faith, regardless of denomination, affiliation, or financial situation. Even as the cost of living has steadily grown over the years, the Chevra has not raised its fees for over twenty years. Unfortunately, inflation has caught up with us and reluctantly we have had to raise our fees to keep up with the rising costs of providing service.
The fee to reserve a plot in our 37th Street cemetery remains the same for now at $5000 and again, we encourage the community to consider pre-purchasing their plot to ease some of the emotional and financial burden on the family at the time of loss. As this fee will undoubtedly rise in the future, it makes financial sense to reserve a plot now. Payment plans for reserved plots can be arranged at the time of reservation to aid in the purchase. The fee for pre-purchased plots does not include actual funeral costs at the time of burial.
Funeral costs include fees for services that are contracted out and over which the Chevra has no control. These include transportation of the deceased to the chapel and later to the cemetery, opening and closing a grave, the officiant’s fee, and the fee for the Shomer (guardian). These costs can run up to $5000 and become due very shortly after burial. In the past, the Chevra covered these costs and then billed the family later. These costs are also rising, and since the Chevra cannot be expected to carry them indefinitely, we now must ask families for a deposit at the time a funeral is planned or within seven days of burial in order to ensure our contractors are paid in a timely fashion.
The remaining fees are for those services provided directly by the Chevra Kadisha and include professional and administration fees, the cost of a casket and tahara (preparation of the deceased for burial) and perpetual care of the cemetery. These costs may total approximately $7,000 and are invoiced to the family after the shloshim (30 day) period of mourning has concluded. These fees do not include the cost of purchasing and installing a monument, which remains the sole responsibility of the family.
Before a monument can be installed, a permit must be purchased from the Chevra Kadisha, and the funeral account must be made current. All monument maintenance, including repairs, are the sole responsibility of the family. It is recommended that families delay monument installation for up to a year to permit the ground to settle properly, and after installation, to periodically inspect their monuments to ensure they are in good repair.
A survey of other Jewish communities in Canada has indicated that, even with these increases, our fees remain very comparable to other jurisdictions. Terms of payment can be discussed with the funeral planner.
THE COMPLEXITIES OF BURIAL
Note: This article was originally published in the Alberta Jewish News on December 9, 2022 and is reprinted with permission.
(Calgary) – Jewish tradition mandates that holding a funeral promptly after a passing demonstrates the utmost respect to a newly deceased as well as their bereaved family. This has been the practice of the Chevra Kadisha of Calgary for over 118 years.
Recently, the Calgary Jewish community experienced the sad loss of fourteen individuals within a four week period. This has never happened before, and it necessitated the planning and co-ordination of multiple funerals by both professional staff and volunteers in a short period of time.
In larger Jewish communities, most cemeteries have their own crews and equipment to prepare graves. Calgary is a smaller community, and it is more practical to have an excavator on contract to prepare graves. These excavators have other contracts they are obliged to honour, particularly during winter, but Calgary is fortunate to have a contract with an experienced and capable excavator who has agreed to amend his work schedule and respond within twenty four hours when a grave is needed for a Jewish funeral. Our business is too infrequent to have more than one excavator standing by prepared to make our needs their highest priority. The Chevra Kadisha does not seek to be busier, but during the rare occurrence of multiple funerals, things quickly become much more complex.
Under optimum weather conditions, it takes a capable and experienced excavator at least two hours to prepare a grave safely and competently without disturbing surrounding graves or monuments. However, during winter, as was the case in the recent spate of passings, it took considerably more hours to break through ground that was frozen solid. This coupled with the shorter daylight hours at this time of year meant that the excavator was only willing to prepare one grave a day. When several graves were required, and in this case at three different cemeteries, delays were inevitable.
The protracted grieving for the bereaved family and the consternation among their friends about these delays is indeed regrettable. The Chevra Kadisha seeks to provide comfort to mourners by providing prompt and respectful services and does not take lightly having to delay any funeral. Its volunteers work tirelessly to provide many of these services, and when funerals occur in rapid succession, it takes extraordinary effort to keep up with the pace. It should be noted that the Chevra Kadisha in Calgary is currently seeking more volunteers, and this recent experience illustrates the need.
Several suggestions came forth from the community to shorten the delay. They included finding another excavator or offering more lucrative compensation. However, inquiries of other cemeteries did not yield any excavators who were willing to help. The risk of collateral damage in the cemeteries was considered too great to engage another excavator who was unfamiliar with the task or the sites, assuming one could even be found.
The Chevra Kadisha takes its role seriously in serving the Jewish community for as long as we have. We consider it an honour to provide these services as acts of chesed shel emet (deeds of loving kindness). We will always endeavour to expedite funerals and will analyze the events that took place in an effort identify if there are other options that would enable us to avoid a recurrence of these events in the future. We appreciate the understanding of the community when circumstances make our work more complex.
The house that used to sit on the southwest corner of Erlton Cemetery has been taken down due to its deterioration. The area has been relandscaped and grassed. Some additional changes (fencing and shrubbery) has been made to provide a buffer between the cemetery and surrounding neighborhood. There are no plans to sell any plots in this area. A project is under consideration to build a “reflecting park” in this area where visitors to the cemetery may socialize. This project will honour several families in the community. Donations to this project are gratefully appreciated.
Construction on the SW ring road continues around the Chapel and we communicate often with both the construction company and provincial government for updates that affect access to our site. Currently, access to 37th Street from Highway 22X has been permanently ended. Readers can find new directions to the chapel by clicking on our home page.
Members of the new Board of Directors:
Chevra Kadisha Annual Dinner March 3, 2020 – 7 Adar 5780
KEEPING UP WITH THE TIMES WHILE PRESERVING TRADITION –
WHAT’S NEW AT THE CHEVRA KADISHA?
(this article was originally published in the Calgary Jewish Free Press from information provided by the Chevra Kadisha)
The Calgary Chevra Kadisha continually faces challenges in order to keep current with the times while maintaining its commitment to following our religious traditions. The community, in this technology oriented age, expects immediate information when they learn of an unfortunate death. They want quick access to find out when and where the funeral will be held. Similarly, they also want to know when unveilings are scheduled. Or they may want to find out where a grave is located at either of our cemeteries and the security code and times of access for entry.
The Chevra is attempting to meet this demand by making a concerted effort to keep our website current. Readers can look online at www.chevraofcalgary.org to find out this information. They can also register their email address with the office to be placed on a fan-out for notices of upcoming funerals.
Even with the attention being paid to keeping the website current, unintentional errors may occur. Members of the community are encouraged to contact the office by email (email@example.com) to advise of errors or updates. The Chevra states that they are a communal organization, and thank the community for their input.
The Chevra is no different than other Jewish institutions in the city that have increased their vigilance to security. New electronic gates were installed at the 37 Street Cemetery, and a video security system is now monitoring both of our cemeteries. The gates will be open during regular visitation hours which will be posted on a sign at the cemetery and on the website. However, the Chevra is discouraging driving into the cemetery on the Sabbath and Festivals and therefore, the gates will be locked on these days and access will be restricted to a pedestrian “man gate” situated beside the main gates. The Chevra strongly urges everyone to use extreme caution when the gates are closed and locked as there will be no parking available to visitors during these restricted times.
The Chevra Board of Directors has recently adopted another change. Individual families visiting the graves of departed loved ones have various practices to honour their relatives. Please note that it is not the local Jewish custom to leave flowers on gravesites, though some people do. However, the practice of leaving artificial or plastic flowers or glass or ceramic objects on graves has posed a risk to groundskeepers. If they are dislodged from the grave, they can jam or damage landscaping equipment. Additionally, these items are not naturally biodegradable. Thus, visitors are encouraged to refrain from this practice and are advised that these objects may have to be removed to maintain safety. The Chevra encourages all visitors to follow the custom by leaving a small stone (provided at each cemetery) on a grave to symbolize that the departed have not been forgotten.
The Chevra accepts donations as a way to offer condolences or tributes to others. Tax receipts can be issued for donations to the society. It is customary to honour the memory of departed loved ones through donations to charity, and what better donation can there be than to contribute to the perpetual care of the cemetery grounds. Donations can be made by clicking the “Donate” button on our home page and clicking on the direct link on that page. Donors can direct how they wish their donation to be utilized. Thank you for your support.
“With respect for all those members of our community who are buried within these grounds”.
To The Attention of All Calgary Chevra Kadisha Cemetery Families
Please be advised of new rules and regulations regarding the placement of items on your loved ones grave site, headstone or foundation.
Effective May 1st 2017 in both our ERLTON AND 37th STREET CEMETERIES we will only allow fresh cut flowers (and /or, the small stones that we have available) to be brought in and set upon your family site.
Please remove all plastic, glass, ceramic, pottery and stoneware containers, and anything else that does not conform to our standards, including plastic or silk flowers, or other decorative items.
In addition, no plants in plant pots or plants or flowers may be planted or placed in or around the entire cemetery area.
As we approach the spring clean-up and Summer maintenance of our properties we encourage you to remove all of the above items by May 1st or we will remove, discard and place in the garbage bins on your behalf whatever is left on site after this date.
As a reminder, our drive-in cemetery gates at 37th street are open Sunday thru Friday from 9:00am to 6:00pm daily.
The Main Gates will be closed on SHABBOS AND ALL JEWISH FESTIVAL DATES*.
*Pedestrian access will be available on these days, thru the side gates only, at both cemeteries upon calling our 24 hour answering service for the side gate code. Please call 403-244-4717.
“MAY THE MEMORY OF YOUR LOVED ONES ALWAYS BE FOR A BLESSING FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY”
CHEVRA KADISHA MANAGEMENT