A message from Calgary Chevra Kadisha: The complexity of burial

by Chevra Kadisha of Calgary

(Calgary) – Jewish tradition mandates that holding a funeral promptly after a passing demonstrates the utmost respect to a newly deceased as well as their bereaved family.  This has been the practice of the Chevra Kadisha of Calgary for over 118 years.

Recently, the Calgary Jewish community experienced the sad loss of three individuals within a twenty four hour period.  This, in itself, is very rare, happening less than once a year.  But when it did happen, it necessitated the planning and co-ordination of three funerals by both professional staff and volunteers in a short period of time.

In larger Jewish communities, most cemeteries have their own crews and equipment to prepare graves.  Calgary is a smaller community, and it is more practical to have an excavator on contract to prepare graves.  These excavators have other contracts they are obliged to honour, particularly during winter, but Calgary is fortunate to have a contract with an excavator who has agreed to amend his work schedule and respond within twenty fours when a grave is needed for a Jewish funeral.  Our business is too infrequent to have more than one excavator standing by prepared to make our needs their highest priority.  The Chevra Kadisha does not seek to be busier, but during the rare occurrence of multiple funerals, things quickly become much more complex.

Under optimum weather conditions, it takes a capable and experienced excavator at least two hours to prepare a grave safely and competently without disturbing surrounding graves or monuments.  However, during winter, as was the case in the recent spate of passings, it took considerably more hours to break through ground that was frozen solid.  This coupled with the shorter daylight hours at this time of year meant that the excavator was only willing to prepare one grave a day.  When several graves were required, and in this case at three different cemeteries, delays were inevitable.

The protracted grieving for the bereaved family and the consternation among their friends about these delays is indeed regrettable.  The Chevra Kadisha seeks to provide comfort to mourners by providing prompt and respectful services and does not take lightly having to delay any funeral.  Its volunteers work tirelessly to provide many of these services, and when funerals occur in rapid succession, it takes extraordinary effort to keep up with the pace.  It should be noted that the Chevra Kadisha in Calgary is currently seeking more volunteers, and this recent experience illustrates the need.

Several suggestions came forth from the community to shorten the delay.  They included finding another excavator or offering more lucrative compensation.  However, inquiries of other cemeteries did not yield any excavators who were willing to help.  The risk of collateral damage in the cemeteries was considered too great to engage another excavator who was unfamiliar with the task or the sites, assuming one could even be found.

The Chevra Kadisha takes its role seriously in serving the Jewish community for as long as we have.  We consider it an honour to provide these services as acts of chesed shel emet (deeds of loving kindness). We will always endeavour to expedite funerals and will analyze the events that took place in an effort identify if there are other options that would enable us to avoid a recurrence of these events in the future.  We appreciate the understanding of the community when circumstances make our work more complex.

2 Comments on "A message from Calgary Chevra Kadisha: The complexity of burial"

  1. Harold Lipton | Dec 9, 2022 at 2:27 pm | Reply

    It can take the excavator up to 9 hours to dig a grave when the ground is frozen like it is right now. It is a real chore.

  2. Sandy Shuler | Dec 10, 2022 at 10:57 am | Reply

    life does not present us with a set of perfect circumstances, and so, we must try to be accepting of the challenges that come our way; I am a proud volunteer of The Chevra Kadisha, the delicate and important mitzvah we strive to accomplish as volunteers and professionals of this organization.

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