David Techner (rear), Josh Tobias, (front left), and Chad Techner
David Techner (rear), Josh Tobias, (front left), and Chad Techner

Ira Kaufman Chapel has served the community for more than 80 years.

When the Ira Kaufman Chapel was established in 1941, it was Detroit’s second Jewish funeral home. The first was the Detroit Jewish Free Burial Association, now the Hebrew Memorial Chapel, a nonprofit established in 1916 that continues to serve the community.

The Jewish community was expanding, and founder Ira Kaufman “saw a need” and turned a house at Dexter and Edison in Detroit into a funeral home, according to David Techner, funeral director at the Ira Kaufman Chapel. An advertisement in the first edition of the Jewish News states that “Ira Kaufman, Funeral Director, is ready to serve the Jewish community with beauty, understanding and dignity, conforming to our Jewish customs and practices.”

Herbert Kaufman soon joined his father. From the beginning, the Kaufmans were committed to personalized attention, answering the phone themselves, even for late-night calls, rather than relying on an answering service.

By 1959, Ira Kaufman was considering a new location for the funeral home because of studies that showed that the Jewish community was moving north and west from Detroit. He wanted to offer convenient access and engaged a professional to find a location that made sense for the future.

The result was a building on Nine Mile Road in Southfield, which was completed in 1961. With three acres and a very large parking lot, Techner thinks that people appreciate the building, which is close to three freeways and accessible to both west side and east side Jewish cemeteries.

David Techner met Herb Kaufman in 1965 when he was a 14-year-old visiting Kaufman’s daughter Ilene. As the chapel had nine funerals scheduled for the following Monday, Kaufman asked him if he had a suit and would be willing to help out. He agreed — the start of a part-time job and eventual career.

Later Techner and Ilene Kaufman married and Techner joined the Ira Kaufman Chapel on a full-time basis. He received a funeral director’s license in 1974 and is a past president of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association. Ira Kaufman died in 1962 and Herb Kaufman died in 2018.

While core components of Jewish funerals remain the same, some changes have occurred, according to Techner.

“People are bringing their family members home to die,” he says, while in the past funeral staff often went to Sinai or Providence hospitals.

“The biggest single change that I wouldn’t have predicted is cremation,” Techner says. About 10 to 12 percent of their funerals now include cremation. “A lot of people don’t want a grave and want ashes spread on a specific space. We had one man who wanted his ashes spread in space. The family was very grateful. It’s their funeral.”

COVID didn’t change how they handle funerals, but masks are required. “People like the comfort of that,” Techner says.

An increasing number of funerals are held at grave side because “the community likes the one-stop aspect,” he explains. “We’re happy to be inclusive and give people what they want.”

Techner is proud of their record-keeping system that maintains family histories and strong connections with local cemeteries. Josh Tobias, who has a background in financial services, joined the Ira Kaufman Chapel in 2010.

The fourth generation of the Kaufman family, Chad Techner, David’s son, worked part-time at the Kaufman Chapel during high school and later returned after college.

“Being able to be helpful to people in a time of need has always been something I’ve been drawn to,” he explains. He considers his role there as another form of support for the community, along with his volunteer work for the nonprofit Metro Food Rescue Service, which he founded.

“We’re flexible. We’re happy to be inclusive and give people what they want. We’re here to serve the families,” Techner says.

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