Inexpensive funerals may not provide good services


During the course of the last eight months, much has been written in this paper about my efforts to purchase two Jewish funeral homes, Edward Sagel Funeral Direction and Danzansky-Goldberg Memorial Chapels. I wish to take this opportunity to explain why, after negotiating tirelessly and in good faith with the Jewish Funeral Practices Group, it was important for me to return the two aforementioned businesses to non-corporate ownership.

That organization is promoting a very inexpensive funeral. It would have the community believe that it provides the same service levels as we provide. There are several reasons this claim is inaccurate.

Its contract promotes less interaction with a funeral director to avoid what it says is “commercial exploitation.” We find this to be an insult to our profession. The consultation with a licensed funeral director is not only informative for the family, it is often therapeutic. We believe their plan is eroding service levels to the community.

Families should have flexibility and options, not a rigid contract. We will customize a fairly priced funeral service based on what the family wants; we are here to support and guide them.

While we provide the highest care to the deceased, we also provide care to the family along with its clergy and community. Jewish funeral services are specialized and different from all other funerals and require the expertise of Jewish funeral directors and specially trained staff. This is where we excel.

This organization is also studying the need for a not-for-profit funeral home. We think you should be aware of a few facts.

Maryland law prohibits not-for-profit funeral homes and also prohibits any owner of a funeral home that does not have a Maryland funeral directors license.

Not-for-profit does not equate to low cost. Funeral homes are businesses, and have
expenses like every other business. They would have to raise prices significantly.

Other Jewish not-for-profit funeral homes in the United States are not low cost. Check for yourself!
We plan to consolidate our two funeral homes into one entity and located in Rockville, with plans to expand. We expect these changes to bring additional value due to fair and reasonable prices for all families.

One member of the group has created a separate business and full-time job for himself. He travels the country teaching, for a fee and ongoing membership, about the mitzvah of tahara (the religious washing of the deceased). We believe his additional goal is to put Jewish funeral homes out of business by creating low-cost and low-service contracts at non-Jewish funeral homes when the industry is based on high levels of service.

We are proud to support those in our community who are less fortunate and will continue to be the longstanding partner with the free burial society, Chesed Shel Emes. We are honored to continue the nearly 100 years of history of these two great businesses servicing the community.

Unfortunately we could not come to terms with this group, and it continues to have its contract honored at a corporately owned, non-Jewish funeral home.

We still stand ready and willing to negotiate a reasonable contract with this group for the benefit of the Jewish community.

Edward Sagel is managing partner of Edward Sagel Funeral Direction and Danzansky Goldberg Memorial Chapels.

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  1. I have been a member of the Funeral Practices Committee at Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington for over 10 years. In that capacity I have worked with Hines-Rinaldi, the current “contract funeral” provider in DC/Maryland, and its predecessors in planning and organizing dozens of funerals for bereaved families. I strongly object to Mr. Sagel’s assertion that low-cost contract funerals are in any way compromised, lower in quality, or insensitive or unresponsive to the family’s wishes or needs. To the contrary, these contract funerals are of superior quality and, within the limits of complying with Jewish halachic and traditional practice, organized and executed in accordance with the family’s preferences and wishes. They also save the family thousands of dollars and relieve them of a lot of emotional pain and stress at a very difficult time in their lives.

    First, a member of our committee alerts the funeral home of the death and arranges for transfer of the deceased, and meets with the family to determine their wishes, plan the funeral, and collect the information the funeral home needs for death certificates and newspaper notices. Second, we make arrangements for our hevrah kadishah to perform taharah and recruit shomrim. The family deals only with us, folks who know them and have no profit motivation in giving advice, and are not subjected to any direct or implied pressures to purchase more expensive caskets or ritually unnecessary services. They don’t have to make stressful advance trips to the funeral home or, in most cases, even the cemetery. And, they don’t have to make any financial payments until after the 30-day shloshim period.

    Meanwhile, Hines-Rinaldi does all the rest, with great caring and professionalism. Some of their staff are Jewish, but the important thing is that all of their staff assigned to our contract funerals are fully knowledgeable and experienced in running Jewish funerals. Since the cost has already been determined, they don’t need to “sell,” they concentrate on delivering service, in accordance with the family’s wishes. Most of our funeral services are held at our synagogue, but if the family wishes, the service is held at Hines-Rinaldi, in comfortable, nonsectarian facilities — at no extra cost! H-R staff are kind, respectful, and efficient. Our funerals and burials are seamlessly and caringly carried out. Our bereaved families express high levels of satisfaction and gratitude.

    Finally, families who do NOT use our contract funeral services also benefit. The competition of our high-quality, low-cost funeral package has worked to suppress the prices charged by “Jewish” funeral homes such as Mr. Sagel’s.


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