Members of the OJC’s Chevrah Kaddishah organise burial, shivah and yarzheit prayers. Most funerals are held at the Jewish section of the Wolvercote cemetery. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further details. Also there is a support and counselling service for those in need - BLESS (Bereavement, Loss and Emotional and Spiritual Support) .
During Orthodox services, we are able to recite a memorial prayer for your departed relatives up to and including grandparents. This recitation will take place either after an Aliyah or after the hagbaah.
Memorial Prayer requests must always be accompanied by a full Hebrew name to include "ben...." or "bat....". Parents’ names can often be found on gravestones or in a Ketubah.
However, if you are an OJC member, we would advise you to contact email@example.com who will forward your relatives' names and (preferably*) Hebrew date of death to the monthly lists. A reminder from the OJC will then alert you annually in advance of the yahrzeit date.
If your request is more immediate, this recitation can still be made if you are present in shul.
* If you don't have a Hebrew date, please provide us with an English date and we will convert it for you.
A death in the Jewish Community: what happens? What to do?
If a member of your family dies, the OJC has a group of volunteers whose role is to assist relatives through the process: the Chevra Kadisha*, (CK). The advantage of having a burial society is that it lifts from the bereaved family the burden of dealing with the practical arrangements for burial. Here follows an explanation about the steps to take in case of death, how to contact us, what services we can provide and at what cost to the individual. There are some differences between Orthodox burials and those who choose a cremation, please see below – (e).
When a relative dies, or if a death is imminent, contact with the CK will be the first step, and the procedures will be explained. Mostly, a death certificate will be issued within days or even hours. In the event of a sudden or unexplained/unexpected death, where cause is not certain, the authorities may require a post mortem before issuing death certificate. In most situations, and particularly when the individual has been under the care of a medical practitioner, the cause of death will be clear and a certificate will be available within days, if not hours.
Once the death has occurred, the relative who will take responsibility for the funeral should contact the Chevra Kadisha - see (a); [NB: it is not necessary to call in the middle of the night]. Jewish custom is to arrange for the funeral as soon as is practical, but little can be done out of office hours, so call as soon as reasonably possible. If a burial plot has already been reserved in the Jewish Section of Wolvercote Cemetery run by the Oxford City Council, it will help if that document is to hand, but do not delay if it can’t immediately be located. You do not need to wait until the Death Certificate is issued, as that can take a day or so.
- If death happens in hospital/hospice, follow the advice below – see (b)
- Obtain the death certificate – see (c)
- The CK will contact the undertakers, arrange for the removal of the body, and assume responsibility for the administrative arrangements for the funeral – see (d)
- There may be arrangements for a shiva, see (f)
- To contact the CK please call , and if he is not immediately available he will have left a message on his answerphone, and you should take note of that message as he might be suggesting you call his mobile, or if he is out of town one of the other members of the Chevra Kadisha. If you want to contact the CK in less urgent circumstances, you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Staff in the UK’s NHS are often unclear about the correct procedure to follow in caring for a Jewish patient after death. Key things are: the dignity of the patient should be preserved; the body must be kept covered, the normal preparation for the collection by the undertakers should be followed, only an unmarked shroud be used, without any religious symbols, and the arms should be uncrossed by the side. It is traditional to keep a window ajar to allow the deceased sprit to escape and also to air the deceased’s room. If there is a mirror in the room, that is by custom covered. However, with death now occurring more commonly in a hospital ward than at home, some of the rituals – like lighting a yahrzeit candle or opening the window – are not always practical.
- The only responsibility resting on the bereaved is to take the death certificate when issued to the relevant Registrar’s office and obtain a Disposal Certificate (commonly known as the ‘green form’ or ‘green slip’), without which no funeral can take place. The Oxford Registrar’s office is in Tidmarsh Lane in Oxford City centre (tel: ) and appointments can be made via this number or via the online service described in the answerphone message on that number. It can sometimes be helpful to mention that the deceased is Jewish, as the Registrars and their staff understand the importance of early burial to Jews. (Appointments are recommended). There is also an office in the JR hospital but please NOTE this office can only assist with deaths that occur within the Oxford and Banbury Hospitals and a member of staff will contact the immediate relatives to arrange an appointment. Death must be registered within 5 working days of the death certification.
- Within the general presumption that the funeral should not be unduly delayed, its timing needs to be mutually acceptable to the family, the CK, the undertakers and the cemetery authorities. Recent changes in Wolvercote Cemetery working practices make it difficult to arrange funerals in less than two working days.
- Cremation: If the family’s preference is for a cremation, the CK can – if requested – arrange for removal by the undertakers, but further details would need to be negotiated by the family, the CK will suggest how this is done.
- In many cases a period of mourning of up to seven days, called the Shiva, is observed in the home of one of the principal mourners. In the mourner’s home, mirrors are normally covered with a cloth; mourners sit on low chairs, (available from OJC on loan for the Shiva period); there is the lighting of a memorial candle (obtainable from OJC caretakers or shop); some traditions include certain specific foods during the Shiva. Advice is available regarding the details. However, adhering to all the above rituals is not compulsory. Every family is different in their degree of observance in this respect.
- The CK will arrange for one of its members to attend and officiate at the interment, who will wish to discuss the details and wishes of the family prior to the day. Other matters for the family to discuss include whom, if anyone, to invite to deliver a eulogy at the funeral, and arrangements for post-funeral ‘shiva’ prayers. OJC members are assured that their personal responses to the death of a loved one are entirely a private matter; the Chevra Kadisha imposes no requirements on the bereaved and, when undertaking a burial, does no more than ensure that the religious integrity of the community at large is protected. Nonetheless, holding one or more post-funeral services can bring significant benefits, not least in enabling those family and friends who were unable to attend the funeral to pay their respects to the deceased and to offer comfort and support to the bereaved.
Finally, there is a cost involved in these services. Unlike many Burial Societies in the larger Jewish communities, OJC members make no contribution in advance towards the costs of burial. The CK will make all the necessary arrangements and will initially settle the costs, but will then issue a single invoice to the deceased’s representative within a few weeks. The exact costs depend on several factors, and are outside the control of the CK or the OJC, such as costs levied by the United Synagogue’s Tahara service in Bushey, which carries out the rituals associated with preparing a Jewish body for burial; undertakers costs of moving and caring for the body; the cost of the plot in Wolvercote Cemetery (and this last factor will depend on the place of residence of the deceased, with non-Oxford City residents required to pay higher charges). Non-members can also be buried under the aegis of the CK but will pay a ‘Service Charge’.
Further information on current costs are available from Michael Ward.
*Wikipedia defines a chevra kadisha (Aramaic: חֶבְרָהקַדִישָא, "holy society") as “an organization of Jewish men and women who see to it that the bodies of deceased Jews are prepared for burial according to Jewish tradition”.
For further information, please contact Michael Ward (01865 311124).