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  • Shmuel Hoffman

Who by Fire?

Margelit here. I want to share with you two films we produced that are very personal, as they relate to the passing of my mother, Irit bat Yosef Orr, back in February 2023.


The day my stepfather Rob asked me to make phone calls to funeral homes and cemeteries in preparation for my mother's death was one of the worst days of my life.


She had been in the hospital for maybe a week or two, and he told me she was very clear about wanting a Jewish burial.


While I was fraught to be tasked with this grim endeavor, I was relieved that she wanted a Jewish burial. I called the first Jewish funeral home that came up in a Google search, and they offered cremation as the first option.


I said, "I thought this was a Jewish funeral home?!"


The receptionist replied, "Yes, and many of our Jewish clients opt for cremation."


I was appalled. I told her no thank you - a funeral home that calls itself Jewish should not be offering cremation at all, let alone as a first option. What's Jewish about it if it's not a Jewish burial?


I only found out later that, three years prior, my mother had thought she would want to be cremated. Thanks to her growing involvement with Chabad of Lehigh Valley, as well as regular Shabbatot spent with us, she changed her mind. I think she figured, "Well, if I live Jewish, I should die Jewish."


(WARNING: This film contains footage of an actual cremation.)


In this film for National Association of Chevra Kadisha, Shmuel went to a crematorium and filmed the process. While so many pro-cremation people seem to soothe themselves with talk of "scattering the ashes," and "this is what they wanted," the fact is, it's a body being burned, which, for a Jew, not only brings up bad memories - both of the Holocaust and of the October 7th massacre by Hamas near and in Gaza - it is also not how we are taught to honor the body that serves the soul for hopefully up to a 120 good and pleasant years.


Shmuel talked about the awful smell in the crematorium. He told me about how they scrape through the ashes after the body is burnt and pick out false teeth and screws that held bones together. Then they scoop the ashes into a kind of meat grinder and grind the remains into a fine powder before scooping it into an urn.


Of Ultimate Truth and Kindness


When death occurs and body and soul separate, the deceased is utterly helpless – they are in a state of complete dependance - fully reliant on others to care for their bodies. 


Three months and counting after the immense tragedy on October 7th, the IDF and volunteer agencies such as Zaka continue to work to ensure any vestige of human remains - any drop of human blood or material that may have absorbed a fragment of human DNA is collected and returned to the earth (in line with the Jewish perspective that the body of every human is sacred and should be gently cared for.)


It is a testament to the care we have for each other, even when the "person" inside their body is gone.


Shmuel made another film for NASCK, about people who had thought about cremation for their loved one, and then changed their mind. Here is his film where he interviews those people talking about why they changed their mind, and how they feel now, after the burial. (This film does NOT contain graphic images.)



We've had positive feedback so far, that this film has actually made people change their minds about cremation.



Having had the privilege of helping my mother be buried Jewishly, I am so thankful that she was not cremated. People may claim that there is no advantage to the soul of being buried once it's left the body, but how can we really know? What I believe is irrelevant to what's actually the reality. I'm not taking any chances.

Please send these films to any Jewish person you know who might be considering cremation, to give them a different perspective.

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