By MYRON LOVE
A new era is about to begin for the Chesed Shel Emes, our community’s 90-year-old non-profit funeral home. At the beginning of March, the little house attached to the main chapel is scheduled to be demolished. The “house” is currently home to the office, the multi-purpose boardroom and – most importantly – the area where bodies are stored and tahara – ritual cleansing – is carried out.
On the site, Akman Construction will be erecting a new two-story structure custom designed for the needs of the Chesed. Rena Boroditsky, the Chesed’s long time executive director, reports that the new addition to the chapel will have double doors at the back leading to the Tahara room – the heart of the operation – which will allow for easier entrance.
“We will have a walk-in cooler in the Tahara area that will be able to accommodate all body sizes and shapes,” Boroditsky adds. “We will also have room in the cooler to store coffins – to be shipped to other communities - with bodies that have been through the process of tahara. Treating the deceased with dignity is our priority.”
She further notes that the new area will allow for safer working conditions.
The new addition will have a dedicated area for family members and the shomrim (those charged with sitting with the bodies and watching over them until the funeral) and additional washrooms which can be accessed from the chapel. Upstairs, there will be more office space – some of it available for public use – and a staff kitchen.
Gerry Pritchard, the Chesed’s current president, notes that the current “house” dates back to the early 1900s. “The foundations are worn out and the building needs to be replaced,” he says.
The last major fundraising campaign and building project undertaken by the Chesed occurred in the mid to late 1940s with the building of the current chapel. It was only last spring that the Chesed Board officially launched a fundraising campaign to pay for this new project.
“We have already raised $2.7 million for the project,” Boroditsky reports. “We are at 80% of our fundraising target of $3.18 million. We have had an incredible response from the community.”
Once construction begins in March, Boroditsky points out, no funerals will be taking place at the Chesed for the period that work on the project is underway – a time period estimated to be about a year.
“We have made alternative arrangements,” Boroditsky says. “We have made arrangements with Chapel Lawn in Headingly where we have secured a dedicated space with our own tables and equipment where we will continue to do tahara. Over a period of a year, we considered a number of options and this was the best. The staff at Chapel Lawn has been very helpful in providing everything we need.”
The majority of community funerals will be held at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue or Congregation Etz Chayim – as is presently the case – with smaller synagogues also options to host funerals. And pallbearers, rather than coming to Chapel Lawn, will report directly to a synagogue – or a cemetery - as the case may be, for grave side services.
“Our staff will be placing the caskets in the hearse and ensuring dignity for the deceased,” Boroditsky says.
“This is a once-in-a hundred years project which will enable us to better serve the community and future generations for years to come,” she adds.
And while the Chesed is close to realizing its fundraising target, Boroditsky is encouraging readers who may not yet have contributed to consider making a donation. “Any gifts over and above what we need for the project will be directed to the Chesed Endowment Fund at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba,” she says. “All gifts are tax deductible.”