When David Kleinman’s mother, Betty Davison, died in August 2018, his congregation offered him a way to help preserve his memories — a personalized booklet detailing the funeral.
It’s a tradition at Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax Station to give a congregant in mourning the eulogies, prayers and psalms read, and photos of the deceased and their loved ones, all under one cover.
“The booklet is wonderful,” Kleinman says. “To have everything in one place about the eulogies and the service because, you know, when you’re sitting there … in the pain of loss you don’t always hear the words people are saying.”
That “fog” is the reason Rabbi Emerita Amy Perlin started making the booklets about 20 years ago.
“I really felt that these people would have great comfort, not only the night of the funeral, or the week of the shivah, but as they progressed, if they actually had the text,” says Perlin.
One man, whose young wife died of pancreatic cancer, told Perlin he read it almost every day for the first year.
“She was the religious one,” Perlin says of the man’s wife, “but the prayers and the words and the pictures of her — all of it gave him tremendous comfort.”
Since Jewish funerals traditionally take place soon after the death, making the booklets requires quick turnaround.
“The ideal [situation] here is that people send us the eulogies in advance and at the conclusion of the funeral, then the family is given the booklets,” says Interim Senior Rabbi Darryl Crystal.
To personalize the funeral service and create the booklets, Crystal and Associate Rabbi Laura Rappaport meet with the families.
“I view my role as giving voice to the feelings of the family,” Crystal says. “I know that I’ve done a good job if people are talking and somebody shares a memory that nobody else knew about. Because that’s part of the mourning process — to be able to talk.”
The funeral booklets have become somewhat a trademark of the community, Perlin says. When Crystal became interim rabbi last year, he had to learn the process of creating them. None of the other congregations where he’s worked have had this tradition.
Until his mother died, Kleinman hadn’t heard about the booklet tradition.
“I didn’t know to expect the booklet,” he says. “Everything was so raw at that point, I just put it aside for another time.”
He knew Crystal was collecting eulogies ahead of time, but didn’t think much about why. This year, on his mother’s yahrzeit, he was glad to have the booklet.
“I brought it out just to revisit the thoughts that the people… to see how everybody felt about my mother. It brought back the memories.”