Toronto Resources for Funerals, Memorial chapels, Cemeteries, and Jewish Bereavement Liturgy.
It is impossible to deliver the “correct” sentiment when you are dealing with someone grieving, even more complicated when the bereaved person is yourself. It is never easy to accept that someone is gone, perfectly natural to run through a range of unfamiliar emotions. This guide is not meant to alleviate your pain, nor should anyone try to interrupt this natural process. My objective is to break down the essence of a Jewish Funeral, providing resources to readers in the Greater Toronto Area.
If you are not Jewish, chances are that you care about someone Jewish, someone who has recently passed. If you are worried about funeral home (or shiva) etiquette, please do not worry too much. It will mean “the world” (to the family) that you show up, not needing to bring flowers or the like. If you are intent on doing something, consider bringing some kosher shiva food or giving a donation in the departed’s name. There are a large variety of kosher supermarkets around bathurst and steeles, in addition to the northern suburbs. It is a great blessing that you are here reading this article, showing that the Jewish Community has many friends of all shapes, sizes, and creeds.
What is a Jewish Funeral?
All people pass away, transitioning from the physical realm to the spiritual “Olam Haba''. Each culture (or ethno-religious group, like Jews) has a unique way to mark milestones, especially the final departure. Whereas Indians like to cremate their loved ones, Jewish Law (Halacha) mandates interment. While not all Jews follow normative Judaism during their life, the pathway to Jewish burial is open to all. In fact, there are many charitable groups that facilitate Hebrew burial where it would be financially inaccessible. There are many interesting facets of our customs, providing meaning and the potential to connect with the Creator.
A funeral can not only edify the memory of the deceased; it all also reinvigorate the community, bringing them together in solidarity and purpose. It is a great Mitzvah to take part in the process, as it is considered the highest form or altruism. While some arrangements afford the possibility of repayment, this is one of the exceptions to the rule. Burying “our own” forces us to confront death, which in turn reinvigorates our zest for life. The funeral forces everyone to confront their own morality, taking the necessary changes to correct our trajectory. Thank The Almighty that you are alive to read this, even if others are not. Gratitude is not easy when grieving, not should it be. With complete conviction--and Kavannah--I attest to my faith in the Gd of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
May you find this page useful, answering your questions before you have a chance to ask. If your question has not been addressed, kindly email me and I will get back to you as quick as possible. I have focussed primarily on Toronto (Ontario, Canada), the city that I am proud to call home. I will give some “procedural information”, such as a list of funeral homes and Jewish cemeteries. I will discuss some Jewish rituals, giving a general overview for people who are on the outside looking in. If so, WELCOME! If you are on this site, chances are that you care about a Jewish person who has recently passed. Regardless of your background, if you mattered during their life, you matter now.
Jewish Funeral Homes in the Toronto Area
Located on the border of North York and Vaughan, this funeral home has been in business for over 86 years. They do not use a lot of fancy graphics, communicating clear information about the services they offer and so forth.
Shmirah - “Watching”. The departed are never left alone, instead observed by someone Torah-observant. He will recite Tehillim (Psalms) while performing his duty, accompanying around the clock until the time of burial.
Tahara - “Purity”. Organized by the Chevra Kadisha, community members come together to wash and dress the departed. This activity is segregated by gender, with males taking care of males and females taking care of females. Jews are dressed in a simple burial shroud, tied in a series of symbolic knots. There are no pockets, foreshadowing the Next World (Olam Haba) that does include any sort of materialistic exchange.
Wooden Casket - Simple enough, ensuring that everyone has exactly the same regardless of economic position. Funerals are not a time to prioritize luxuries, instead focusing on memory of the deceased. If someone wants to honour the memory of someone, the best bet is to ask the family for a preferred charity.
Earth Burial - The Torah instructs us that we originally came from dust, and to dust shall we return. Like our beloved fore-parents, Jews too are instructed to obtain a burial plot, to serve as a reminder to future generations. The headstone is not to give pleasure to the Soul but instead inspire future generations to follow suit. “Dor Le Dor” Jews continue where their fathers left off, ensuring that the Light of the Almighty will shine whenever His People come together.
They discuss grief counselling, something that should be seriously looked into. While we all experience the death of loved ones, we can choose to process the grief in different ways. Not everyone grieves the same way, each a reflection of the person and their unique relationship with the departed. It is important to find someone that you trust, someone that understands where you are coming from. This is not the time to give “lessons'' to someone, necessitating finding someone who shares the same ethno-religious background. When people are at their “weakest” they need people who can quickly understand what is going on, even if everyone isn’t spelt out.
Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel
This is perhaps the most well known of the Jewish funeral homes in Toronto. I have been here several times, starting from a very young age. My father would perform the prayers for the deceased, discussing their story while integrating core Jewish prayers. I remember sitting in the family room, adjacent to the chapel. I later returned to this room as an adult, sitting with my family mourning the loss of my Zaydie. The decor is pleasant (and not overbearing), hosting a variety of comfortable seats and couches.
Please take note that they are not using the chapel at this time, instead offering gravesite funerals only. I will change this article once it is made available.
It was founded at the turn of the last century, with Russian-immigrant Henry Benjamin migrating to Toronto. He found success as a grocery vendor, securing himself a transport wagon, a relative luxury at the time. An early member of the Chevra Kadisha, he volunteered his wagons to transport the departed, en route to their burial. This set the tone for the Benjamin family, now celebrating their fourth generation serving the Toronto Jewish Community. It is run by Michael Levitt, the husband of Barbi Levitt (nee Benjamin). Together with their two brothers–Marc & Jordan–they continue to serve the same community that Henry did, so many years ago.
As rightly noted, Toronto is not only one of the most religious Jewish communities, it is also one of the most diverse. Jews come in all shapes, sizes, shades, heights, flavours, accents, and so forth.
Without wasting your valuable time, let me give you some context.
Jewish people are people who originate in the Middle-Eastern region of Judea. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, many were slaughtered but many made it out. Some Jews joined the Roman trade routes and found themselves migrating from Israel-Rome-Germany/France-Eastern Europe-The West. Other Mispucha went with the Spanish explorers, conquering new lands and building meaningful relationships. The same goes for Ethiopia, Iraq, Morocco and so forth.
We were forced to flee, sometimes finding local people to assimilate into our community. We accept all true converts, those who join us in good faith and dedication. It provides me so much value, words cannot convey the rigor of this sentiment. If someone is interested in the Torah, this is a good thing. We have so many enemies, people that wish us harm and misery. The matara is to spread the Torah, not keep it secluded or hidden.
The Torah is True.
For All Time.
For It’s Giver is Truth.
For deaths in Hamilton (Niagara and surrounding region) contact the United Hamilton Memorial Chapel.
Jewish graves tend to have similar attributes, pieces of information conveying meaningful hints about our past. The grave does not just belong to the family, instead it belongs to the Jewish community as a whole.
Each stone represents someone meaningful, someone who served a purpose in our community.
You see that stone over there?
What does it say?
Do you recognize any of the Hebrew?
What is the connection?
What can we learn from him, and his role here?
When an aggressive regime takes over, the first thing they do is that they destroy all of the headstones. Reason being, they remind the current generation of a time before the current regime. If you are looking to exact complete domination–over a population–you must replace their deity with yourself. Think of how North Korea operates, placing that meshugga as an idol. They put a lot of work into what they do, and for good reason. Human beings are designed to chase the Divine, manifesting in all cultures having some form of Creator-Worship. All a coincidence? I say not.
Just like humans eat food, humans also seek Truth outside our own experience.
You will notice this passage “תהא נפשו/ה צרורה בצרור החיים”on Jewish graves. While some have the abbreviated version, it is seldom that you will find one without this Scriptural excerpt. Translated from the Hebrew, it means "May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life”.
You will also see the Hebrew letters “P’N” or “pay nun” which is an abbreviation for “here is buried”. Apologies again for digressing but again I must give some context. High Priests (Kohanim) are not allowed to come close to a dead body, by virtue of their mandated position. Gravestones serve to warn such people, allowing them to keep their religious integrity.
In addition to other standards (like Hebrew birth/death dates) you will see different graphics and images. There are many Jewish cemetaries in the GTA, each with their own rules and stipulations. The Hassidic sections are more conservative in nature, communicating key information to the mourner in Loshon haKodesh. However, in the next section you will see Toronto Maple Leaf etchings, a last request for a Stanley Cup Victory that has yet to come. Whether they win before Mashiach comes is anyone’s guess.
Some things to consider…
Do you have the correct dates (in both Engish and Hebrew)?
What is their Hebrew name?
What are their parent’s Hebrew names?
What verse represents them?
What cemetery have they reserved?
What section are they in?
What are the guidelines for this (specific) section?
Were they a Holocaust Survivor, Veteran, Politician, or part of a special organization?
Here is a list of Toronto (and area) providers of Jewish headstones.
This list is not exhaustive.
If you are a qualified vendor, please email me and I will add you to this resource page.
Jewish Cemeteries in Toronto
Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park - map
Beth Tzedec Memorial Park - map
Dawes Road Cemetery - map
Jones Avenue Cemetery - map
Lambton Hills Cemetery - map
McCowan Road Cemetery - map
Mount Sinai Memorial Park - map
Pardes Shalom Cemetery - map
Holy Blossom Memorial Park
A song for ascents.
I turn my eyes to the mountains;
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot give way;
your guardian will not slumber;
See, the guardian of Israel
neither slumbers nor sleeps!
The LORD is your guardian,
the LORD is your protection
at your right hand.
By day the sun will not strike you,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will guard you from all harm;
He will guard your life.
The LORD will guard your going and coming
now and forever.
א שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת
אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶֽהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃
ב עֶ֭זְרִי מֵעִ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃
ג אַל־יִתֵּ֣ן לַמּ֣וֹט רַגְלֶ֑ךָ אַל־יָ֝נ֗וּם שֹֽׁמְרֶֽךָ׃
ד הִנֵּ֣ה לֹֽא־יָ֭נוּם וְלֹ֣א יִישָׁ֑ן שׁ֝וֹמֵ֗ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
ה יְהוָ֥ה שֹֽׁמְרֶ֑ךָ יְהוָ֥ה צִ֝לְּךָ֗ עַל־יַ֥ד יְמִינֶֽךָ׃
ו יוֹמָ֗ם הַשֶּׁ֥מֶשׁ לֹֽא־יַכֶּ֗כָּה וְיָרֵ֥חַ בַּלָּֽיְלָה׃
ז יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָרְךָ֥ מִכָּל־רָ֑ע יִ֝שְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃
ח יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵֽאתְךָ֥ וּבוֹאֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba
uvchayei d’chol beit yisrael,
ba’agala uvizman kariv,
Y’hei sh’mei raba m’varach
l’alam ul’almei almaya.
Yitbarach v’yishtabach, v’yitpa’ar v’yitromam
v’yit’aleh v’yit’halal sh’mei
d’kud’sha, b’rich hu,
l’eila min-kol-birchata v’shirata, tushb’chata
Y’hei shlama raba min-sh’maya
Oseh shalom bimromav,
hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu
v’al kol-yisrael, v’imru: “amen.”
It is hard to get over a loss, especially as everything else “marches on” as normal. If you are grieving a loss, know that you are not alone. It is perfectly rational-and healthy-to be emotionally distraught. The closer you were to the departed, the more it is going to hurt. The only solution is to never love, never open up. It is our vulnerability that makes us human, the ability to admit that we are weak and need help.
Death can be a catalyst for change, either towards Gd or against it. Many Holocaust victims were angry at Gd, furious that He would abandon us in our time of need. Six million of our brothers (and sisters) went to the camps; our bubbies, zaydies, aunties, uncles, cousins and friends. When they came for everyone we loved, they came for everyone we knew. This is the perfect excuse to abandon Gd, assuming that the story ended there...
Why do we take such care, emphasizing every nuance and detail...
The rituals serve to achieve several objectives, such as:
To ease the Spiritual Transition from this world to “Olam Haba”.
To ask Him to come down to us, to comfort our hearts.
To assert the dignity of the departed, emphasizing their Jewish Identity.
To remind us that our days are limited but our potential infinite.
Encouraging Jews to come together, not just for deaths and so forth.
If you need professional guidance, contact a grief therapist, one that you feel can connect with you. Do not feel ashamed if you need to cry, regardless of whether you are male or female.
Here are some Grief Therapists (and support systems) in the Toronto Area:
Jewish Practices surrounding mourning
Jewish death date finder (for doing Kaddish)
Donate (Tzedakah) in their honour
Naming children after the departed
Find a minyan for Kaddish (or Schaharit, Maariv etc)
Shiva Basket (to bring)
Beth Tzedec Synagogue