Sagel Bloomfield aims for Orthodox funeral market

Al Bloomfield is co-owner of Shomrei Neshama as well as supervising mortician.
Photo by Hannah Monicken

Does the area’s Orthodox community need its own funeral home? Sagel Bloomfield Danzansky Goldberg Funeral Care in Rockville is betting it does.

Last week, the company opened Shomrei Neshama, a funeral care service that will operate out of the Sagel Bloomfield facility on Rockville Pike but offer an Orthodox face to its target market.

The new venture’s owners are Ed Sagel and Al Bloomfield, who is also the supervising mortician. Shlomo Fantl, an apprentice funeral director under Bloomfield, is Orthodox. So is Larry Shor, director of monuments for Sagel Bloomfield and with Shomrei Neshama.

Bloomfield said it was important that those working at Shomrei Neshama reflect the community they are going to serve.

“We just saw that there was a way to serve the Orthodox community in a way that their sensitivities were met,” he said. “The whole point was to make it more comfortable for the community and [Orthodox] rabbis.”

Those sensitivities include being offered only plain wood coffins and not being offered cremation and embalming services, which are prohibited by Jewish law, he said. Sagel Bloomfield offers those services.
Bloomfield said he and Sagel launched Shomrei Neshama for two reasons: to expand their business and also because they identified needs not being met locally.

“We’ve tried to choose a focus every year since we’ve owned the business — what aren’t we doing that we should be doing?” he said.

Shomrei Neshama is a restricted funeral home, meaning it is mainly an office where families can make arrangements. Preparing the deceased for burial will continue to be handled by Sagel Bloomfield.

Shomrei Neshama is closed on Shabbat and holidays, unlike Sagel Bloomfield. Shomrei Neshama offers an “Orthodox package” of services. Bloomfield declined to reveal the cost of the package.

He said he hoped the process he and Sagel are putting in place will speed making funeral arrangements and allow the deceased to be buried quickly, as Jewish tradition calls for.

Sagel Bloomfield works with more than 500 families a year, according to Bloomfield. Fewer than 10 percent are Orthodox customers. Shomrei Neshama has not yet had any customers, he said.

There are two other options for Jewish funerals in the Washington area: Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home and the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington, a group of more than 40 synagogues that have contracts with funeral homes in Silver Spring and Alexandria to provide traditional Jewish services for about $2,000.

It is unclear if the committee provides any other services and it did not respond to inquiries prior to press time.

Joyce Torchinsky, owner of Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home, in Northwest Washington just over the Maryland line, said she offers an Orthodox package, but declined to discuss her prices. Her business is closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Bloomfield said he has spread the word on a listserv used by Orthodox Jews.

“We obviously hope it’s embraced by the community and that it’s used by the community,” he said.

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