Every Jewish community has organizations that tend to the needs of its residents. But one organization — the chevra kadisha, the burial society—is less familiar than most, since its work is done not only modestly, but anonymously. Under the leadership of Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, however, the National Association of Chevra Kadisha (NASCK) has gone public in addressing the most challenging end-of-life issues facing the Jewish community today.
You can assist NASCK in its mission by joining Yanky Safier and Benzion Krupka, hosts of a breakfast reception on Sunday, December 23, at the home of Benzion and Rayla Krupka, at 528 Oak Drive in Far Rockaway. There will be a reception starting at 9:30 a.m., with the program beginning at 10 a.m. Rabbi Moshe Brown, the rav of Agudath Israel of West Lawrence, will be speaking, and Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, the founder and director of NASCK, will deliver closing remarks and be available to answer questions.
NASCK is known for its 24/6 hotline, where callers ask, and receive prompt answers to questions as varied as how to achieve the greatest possible level of kavod ha’meis in difficult situations to ways to help people choose kevurah over cremation. NASCK staff also uses its experience and resources to help with pressing issues such as arranging out-of-state and international levayos in a timely fashion and addressing the full range of questions that arise regarding cemeteries.
NASCK’s educational department has created programs facilitating the signing of halachic living wills, which ensure that every Jew has access to halachic guidance at end-of-life; a program created with Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah called To Comfort and Be Comforted, that helps both mourners and shivah-house visitors; and has compiled a broad variety of resources on topics as diverse as the need for life insurance and the proper way to care for one’s elderly parents.
NASCK’s TEAM Shabbos initiative encourages rabbis across the country to use the events and themes of Parashas Vayechi to educate congregants about end-of-life issues. TEAM Shabbos, which takes place this year on December 22, is now in its fourth year, and has enlisted the participation of nearly 500 rabbis throughout the U.S., opening a too-often-postponed conversation about end-of-life in nearly 250 communities.
Cremation has become a huge issue in the Jewish community; the cremation rate for Jews is currently a staggering 40 percent — and rising. To combat this tremendous chilul Hashem, NASCK has created resources that address Jews who may fall sway to the cultural trends promoting cremation. These educational materials include a website dedicated to choosing kevurah over cremation, books, brochures, lectures, and PowerPoint presentations, all of which explain and promote traditional Jewish burial and the belief in an afterlife.
In its most ambitious initiative yet, NASCK has created the first cemetery in the United States dedicated to providing a dignified halachic burial for every Jew, regardless of their ability to pay. NASCK’s South Florida Jewish Cemetery, just north of Boca Raton, Florida, is a nonprofit cemetery whose mission is to provide respectful, authentically-Jewish burial, at the highest standards of Jewish tradition, for every Jew, including every meis mitzvah. This cemetery is due to open in the next few weeks, be’H, and will greatly impact kevurah k’halachah in South Florida and elsewhere, be’H.
Proper respect for the deceased lasts forever, but it begins with educating the living. For that reason, NASCK believes it is time to open the conversation.