When Jews die, their family members often get a crash course in mourning rituals that may appear ancient and peculiar.
Tradition calls for burial as quickly as possible. A seven-day period of grief, called shiva, follows, with myriad rites, prayers and customs.
A new website, based in Delray Beach, seeks to make the process less complicated. ShivaConnect.com offers detailed information on funeral, burial and mourning practices, as well as a registry for visitors coming to the mourners' house and agencies that can assist with moving, legal help and geriatric care.
Sharon Rosen of Delray Beach launched the site a few months ago after the 2009 death of her mother, Dorothy Kurlander, raised many questions that frustrated but also intrigued her. Her parents had chosen a cemetery but hadn't made funeral arrangements, forcing the family to scramble to find a funeral home and casket.
In addition, her mother died at home with an abundance of still-usable medical supplies, such as a hospital bed, so the site lists places such as hospices that accept these donations.
The site emphasizes the importance of planning ahead to avoid stress on the survivors.
"It's based on my personal experience," said Rosen, a former teacher and former associate publisher of Florida Design Magazine. "I started thinking about what it was I needed that I didn't have."
Rosen began detailed research on Jewish mourning practices and interviewed rabbis, funeral directors and friends who recently had experienced a family death. A trend she discovered: Mourners bought lots of food for the visitors who came over to comfort them during shiva.
But the guests also bring food. An abundance of sumptuous platters and baked goods arrive, and lots goes to waste.
That's how she came up with the Shiva Registry, similar to a bridal registry, where mourners can post the time, dates and places for the funeral and shiva, and guests can send food or see what food has already been ordered in order to avoid overlap.
The site offers how-to's on preparing a home for shiva, planning a funeral and on chanting the traditional prayers for the dead, including a video on how to pronounce the Mourner's Kaddish, the rhythmic Aramaic prayer recited at Jewish funerals.
"These are things no one wants to think about beforehand," said Rabbi Andrew Jacobs of Ramat Shalom Synagogue in Plantation. "Synagogues do a lot of this legwork, but if someone doesn't have a community, a website like this can make the mourning process easier."
Still, face-to-face guidance from a professional is essential, said Rabbi Robert Silvers of Congregation B'nai Israel in Boca Raton. Questions about contemporary interpretations often come up, such as whether it is acceptable to conduct a minyan, the minimum of 10 mourners needed to say prayers, through a technology such as Skype.
"There is a period when people are in shock, and they still need that human touch," Silvers said. "I'm not going to hand them a brochure at that moment."
But an Internet-savvy generation is increasingly comfortable finding answers on the Web, said Keith Kronish, managing partner of Gutterman's funeral chapels, with offices in Florida and New York. Kronish said funeral homes try to answer questions efficiently, knowing mourners want to leave the premises as soon as possible.
"They could ask me these questions, but more often they don't," Kronish said. "We're putting the first ointment on the wound."
Rosen said she has found many Jews are uncomfortable talking about death, but hopes her fellow baby boomers, seeing the problems caused by their parents' failure to plan, help transform attitudes.
"I think baby boomers will be more open to discussion about it, so they don't do the same thing to their own children," she said.
Lsolomon@tribune.com or 561-243-6536
Copyright © 2011, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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