America’s family-owned funeral homes are being gobbled up by conglomerates, but in the Detroit area, two Jewish funeral homes are bucking the national trend.
At Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield, Chad Techner is the fourth-generation of his family to serve as a funeral director. The Dorfman Chapel in West Bloomfield has father-and-son directors in Alan and Jonathan Dorfman.
Founder Ira Kaufman opened his funeral home in 1941 when he was 45, in a two-family Detroit house remodeled as a chapel. His son, Herb, now 94, joined him in the late 1950s and helped Ira build the Southfield chapel in Southfield, where they’ve been since 1961.
David Techner, 66, got to know the Kaufman family when he was 15 and dating Herb’s daughter Ilene, now his wife of 45 years. Techner worked at the chapel through his college years and started full time after graduating from Wayne State University’s School of Mortuary Science. Techner’s son, Chad, 37, joined the company in 2010.
(The chapel’s fourth funeral director, Josh Tobias, is not officially a member of the family, but Herb calls him “my son.”)
Kaufman belongs to a half-dozen congregations. Techner is a longtime member of Temple Israel, where he and his wife underwrite the annual Alicia Joy Techner Parenting Conference in memory of their daughter, who was 8 months old when she died in 1978. They see their business as a service to the community they so love.
David has made a specialty of helping children understand death and dying. He doesn’t want others to experience what he did at age 9, when he came home from school to find his house full of people for his grandfather’s shivah; he and his brothers hadn’t been told about the death or the funeral.
He co-authored A Candle for Grandpa: A Guide to the Jewish Funeral for Children and Parents. A short film he made with local producer Sue Marx in 1999, Generation to Generation: Jewish Families Talk About Death, won several awards, including an Emmy.
Chad is the chapel’s tech guru. He devised a way to provide live-streaming from any location, even cemeteries, for most of the 350 to 400 funerals they handle every year.
Recently Kaufman Chapel started using the DJN Foundation’s archives to find Jewish News stories that mentioned the deceased. They print the stories and create a keepsake book for the family.
Chad has 2-year-old twins, a boy and a girl; perhaps one or both will be the fifth generation of Kaufman family funeral directors.
The Dorfman Family
Alan Dorfman, 79, started Alan H. Dorfman Funeral Direction in 1991, after working for 25 years at Hebrew Memorial Chapel. At first, he offered only graveside services.
His son, Jonathan, 48, was studying psychology at Michigan State at the time and planning to become a neurosurgeon. Alan asked him if he would consider being a funeral director instead, and Jonathan’s life direction changed. He joined the business in 1991 and was the driving force behind building the Dorfman Chapel in Farmington Hills, the first new Jewish funeral home in 35 years.
Stephanie Dorfman, Alan’s wife and Jonathan’s mother — and a retired teacher — is their secretary.
Jonathan finished his undergraduate degree from MSU, then earned a second bachelor’s, in mortuary science, from Wayne State. He also has a master’s in psychology from MSU, which he said has been very helpful in his grief counseling work.
Like David Techner, Jonathan sees his job as a community service, and that’s a big reason why he’s not interested in selling to a conglomerate. “Like doctors, we are on call 24/7,” he said. “I would be a lot less interested in being on call around the clock for someone else’s business. The service end tends not to be as good in funeral homes after a merger.”
Will there be a third generation of Dorfmans at the chapel? With two daughters and two sons aged 12 to 20, Jonathan hopes that will be the case. He says his older daughter, 20, is definitely not interested in the funeral business, but his son, Cooper, 18, who will be a freshman at Michigan State in the fall, just might be.
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Weekly through May 3, when the JN holds its 75th anniversary gala, we will run profiles of multi-generational families involved in the community. Readers are invited to share their multi-generational photos, a brief description of those pictured and contact information via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Digital photos need to be 1mb jpgs. Mail print photos to the JN, with your description. To learn about the gala, go to djnfoundation.org. Thanks!