A couple of months I ago I posted a piece about a week where I officiated at seven funerals. Last week, in one day, on Friday, I officiated at four funerals. The seven funeral week piece was more about emotionally how I navigated those days. In this piece I want to address the question of logistics – how is it actually possible to officiate at four funerals in a single day?
First, two things must be said. One, I’ve learned over time that the rabbinate in a large synagogue requires the art of appearing in multiple places at the same time. I know this is not actually possible, but it is possible in a way – by leaving one place a few minutes early, arriving at another a few minutes late, skipping meals, using every possible second of the day, stacking appointments one after another after another. It is not something I recommend, and the truth is when you are in multiple places at once you are not fully in anyplace, but sometimes it is what you have to do just because of the sheer volume of what you need to accomplish.
The second thing is this: if you are serving in a mega-shul, sometimes you just have to work on Shabbat and Yom Tov. You just have to, like it or not, admit it or not. The four funerals I had were on the Friday after Shavuot. The holiday began on Tuesday evening, at which point only one of the four funerals was scheduled. The calls about the other funerals came in on Wednesday morning and afternoon, and I think one Thursday morning. Both Yom Tov days. For each funeral a meeting with the family is required. At each meeting notes must be taken. Eulogies must be written. It is not possible to wait until the end of the holiday, Thursday night (and late! close to 9:30), before beginning these meetings.
So here is how it went down. I met with one family Wednesday afternoon. Thursday after services I came home directly and wrote eulogy #1. Then Thursday afternoon I began meeting with the other three families. One at 4, one at 5:30, one at 7. Straight through, one after the other. I finished those meetings at about 9 at night, Thursday night. As of Thursday night the four family meetings were completed, and one eulogy was written. Tired out, one good beer, some reading, and bed.
Friday morning up early. Eulogy #2 written between 7 and 8:30. Now with two eulogies finished I went to the first funeral, a graveside at 9:30. From there right to the funeral home for funeral #2, a chapel service that began at 11. I was back at the synagogue at 1, with the next funeral scheduled to begin at 3, the last funeral at 5. From 1 to 2:30 I wrote eulogy #3 and also wrote the short remarks I would make at funeral #4 (the family and friends would be delivering the main eulogies). In a pinch (and a four funeral day qualifies as a pinch) I can write a eulogy in an hour or so.
I printed out the last eulogies, arrived at the funeral home at 2:45, officiated at funeral #3, and from the cemetery drove right back to the funeral home for funeral #4. After the burial service I arrived home at about 6:45.
Oh, and there was that issue of the sermon for Shabbat morning. But that is a story for another day.