Ed Sagel, owner of the Sagel and Dazansky-Goldberg funeral homes, recently published a diatribe against the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington (The Committee) in Washington Jewish Week (“Inexpensive funerals may not provide good services,” Sept. 4).
Sagel recently bought ownership of Sagel and Danzansky from Service Corporation International. Our Committee’s successful effort at the Federal Trade Commission to sustain Jewish funeral service competition in our area made that possible. The corporate owner was required to divest one of its Montgomery County funeral homes and Sagel got to buy them.
Our partners in that effort were the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), several rabbis, and more than 1,000 letter writers. With 40 years’ experience, JFPC currently contracts with the Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home in Silver Spring for a package that includes all of the elements of a Jewish funeral, including a plain pine casket in accordance with Jewish tradition and a funeral service wherever the bereaved want it to be held.
The Hines price is now $1,849. The contract creates price competition, setting a standard for the other funeral homes in our area. To see what Ed Sagel calls a “fairly priced funeral,” look at the Sagel website; the price is upwards of $6,000. It should be no insult that a funeral business, unrestricted by a contract, tries to get as much money as it can for its services.
It has high fixed costs and every funeral counts! At the same time, the bereaved are at their most vulnerable. They are experiencing a personal disaster and have no experience or time to shop and negotiate for a funeral.
The availability of our contract protects them. JFPC’s 40+ member-congregations include the entire spectrum of religious Jewry.
The Committee promotes funeral practices that reflect the Jewish values of simplicity and equality in death so that the poor are not shamed and the bereaved are not exploited. The thousands of dollars generally charged by funeral homes are better used for family needs or tzedakah. We also maintain a website with an objective wealth of information on all aspects of death in Judaism (dc.jewish-funerals.org). Our nonsectarian contractor, Hines-Rinaldi, has rendered first-class service under the contract for 12 years, with nothing lacking.
The contract terms are pre-negotiated. Bereaved families needn’t visit the funeral home for arrangements, although they may if they wish. They know they’ve done the right, traditional thing, supported by the community, and they needn’t suffer doubt. Hines did well over 200 Jewish contract funerals in 2013.
They maintain dedicated facilities for tahara (ritual purification) and shemira (guarding the body). Their seven licensed funeral directors are familiar with Jewish funerals; five previously worked in Jewish funeral homes. Hines has a 250-seat chapel plus a room for smaller funeral services, and its own 215-space parking lot. Next year the old Danzansky will be closed and all Sagel/Danzansky operations will be located on the second floor of a small shopping mall with no chapel space. Sagel/Danzansky will share a small parking lot with other tenants of the mall.
For many years, almost all the funerals from Ohr Kodesh Congregation, Tifereth Israel Congregation, Congregation Beth El of Montgomery Co., Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Fabrangen, and about half from Adas Israel Congregation and B’nai Israel Congregation, plus many funerals from other congregations and unaffiliated Jews, have been performed under the JFPC contract. We believe that they choose our contract because of reliability, good service and low price.
JFPC appreciates Hines-Rinaldi but is not wedded to it. We periodically seek contract bids from other established funeral homes. Despite his criticism, Ed Sagel ends his piece by saying that he is “ready and willing to negotiate” a contract with our Committee.
We’ve had discussions with him in the past, and we may well in the future. n Bob Hausman is president of the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington.