Holiday Bereavement Services: Comfort for Tough Times

The Jewish faith deals with death and remembrance with organized rituals such as reciting a prayer known as the Kaddish (recited throughout the 11 or 12 months following a close relative’s passing, and on the yearly death anniversary known as the “yahrzeit”) and also as part of certain holiday liturgies (Yom Kippur, Passover, and a few other holidays) as the Yizkor or Remembrance prayer. However, there are a number of people who feel the need for additional comfort, especially during other religious holidays such as Hanukkah that place much emphasis on family gatherings, and national celebrations such as Thanksgiving.

In parts of New York City, Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services sponsors programs that are both regional and geared toward specific congregations. Jonathan Katz, Director of Community Services along with staff member Alix Friedman, explained that at certain Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx synagogues the Board helped to create holiday bereavement programs for Hanukkah and Passover, and work with rabbis, social workers and other clergy and teachers to achieve this.

These programs are intended to bring together lonely and saddened congregants, to talk and share feelings, and not just for one-shot events but for more continued programming. They create structure settings for grief expression so people don’t just sit at home and feel miserable or even ashamed of their intense sadness. Katz says that “we deal with a lot of the stigma people feel” when others say to them ‘You should be over” mourning. “Sometimes it can take years to regain equilibrium.” The holiday services also teach coping skills through the recitation of prayers, text readings and singing songs.

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