From 2000
(William Davidson Digital Archive of Detroit Jewish History)

The “Last Guys to Let You Down” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to our local Jewish funeral directors.

One of the fun things about the William Davidson Digital Archive of Detroit Jewish History is that, while searching for one subject, I find interesting articles on another topic. Case in point: “The Last Guys to Let You Down” in the July 29, 1994, issue of JN.

The “Last Guys to Let You Down” is a tongue-in-cheek reference to our local Jewish funeral directors. They are indeed the last guys to actually “let you down” when the time comes.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

Before revealing the entertaining content of the article, perhaps I might start with a little bit about the three funeral homes or chapels in Metro Detroit that serve the Jewish community: Hebrew Memorial Chapel, Ira Kaufman Chapel and Dorfman Chapel. 

The Hebrew Memorial Chapel is the oldest of the three, incorporated in 1916. The catalyst was the burial of a homeless Jew in Detroit’s “potters’ field,” or the city’s cemetery for the poor. Shlomo Sandwiess called together a group of 10 people who formed the Hebrew Free Burial Association, a nonprofit funeral home. The chapel is still nonprofit. It has been in Oak Park since 1964. Rabbi Boruch E. Levin has been executive director since 1986. 

In 1941, Ira Kaufman established the Ira Kaufman Chapel at Dexter and Edison. It moved to its location in Southfield in 1961. Ira’s son, Herb, then began to work at the chapel. David Techner worked at the chapel when he was in high school. He became a licensed funeral director in 1974. Today his son, and Ira’s great-grandson, Chad, is part of the team with Herb and David.

From 2014
William Davidson Digital Archive of Detroit Jewish History

The last of the trilogy is the Dorfman Chapel, established in 2001 by Alan Dorfman. After working at the Hebrew Memorial Chapel for 20 years, Dorfman began the Alan H. Dorfman Funeral Direction, which focused on graveside services, in 1991. His son, Jonathan, is now co-owner of the chapel.

Now, about the “The Last Guys to Let You Down.” In the article, funeral directors relate stories about doing their absolute best to “meet the many — often strange — requests of grieving families.” Per the article, Halachah mandates that there should be no fancy jewelry or clothes for the deceased, but it does not expressly forbid inclusion of other items. 

From 2017
William Davidson Digital Archive of Detroit Jewish History

David Techner discussed a late husband’s wife request to have his cell phone buried with him since he was never without it. Rabbi Boruch Levin and his funeral director recalled having walkie-talkies placed with the deceased. Alan Dorfman has been asked to include cigarettes (“He loved to smoke”) and decks of cards. 

It should also be noted that all three chapels regularly perform mitzvahs above and beyond holding funerals. For example, the Kaufman Chapel helped bury unclaimed bodies from the Wayne County Morgue (June 5, 2014, JN). Hebrew Memorial partnered with BBYO to hold “Driving to Distraction,” an event to educate teenagers about the dangers of texting while driving (Nov. 6, 2011, JN). The Dorfman Chapel opened a non-denominational bereavement library for Detroiters after 9-11 (Dec. 12, 2001, JN). 

I hope it’s a long time before I am, ahh, let’s say, the ‘guest of honor’ at a funeral. But, it is good to know that Detroit has great funeral chapels to let me down easy. 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at
www.djnfoundation.org

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