The Seattle Jewish Chapel has its first permanent home in more than two years, following the dedication at the end of June of the Mel Wolf Tahara, where the Jewish traditions for preparing a body for burial will be performed.
The new building, which is on the campus of Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath Congregation, was named in honor of Wolf, who died in January 2000 at age 75, for his commitment to the Jewish community and especially because of his efforts on behalf of the Seattle Jewish Chapel.
“Mr. Wolf was himself dedicated to many causes on behalf of the Jewish people. None was more important to him than ensuring that the Jewish community of Seattle had a proper chevrah kadisha and a proper means of burying the dead,” wrote Louis Treiger in BCMH’s newsletter, The Synagogue Tribune. “Mr. Wolf dedicated countless hours to the smooth operation of the Seattle Jewish Chapel, from overseeing the enterprise down to ensuring that its vehicles were operating properly. On occasion, he even took calls from bereaved family members in the middle of the night, ensuring them that their loved one would be buried with dignity and in accordance with Jewish tradition.”
Historian Meta Buttnick recalled the traditions of the old Seattle Jewish Chapel building on 12th Ave, which was sold more than two years ago: “For years, the time-honored ritual was to conduct funeral services in the Seattle Jewish Chapel building at 12th Ave. and Spruce, with a processional to the cemetery which passed the synagogues close by, and passed the Talmud Torah at 25th and Columbia. However, the synagogues and the Talmud Torah had moved away. The history-rich chapel was being used less and less.”
A new chapel was built at the cemetery during Mel Wolf’s tenure as BCMH president. The new facility at the synagogue will be used for preparing bodies for burial and for other Jewish rituals. The beautiful little chapel at the cemetery will continue to be used for funerals. The new facility gets its name from the traditional procedure of washing the body prior to burial, which is called a “tahara.”
“Our new building will allow us to continue our traditions,” said Richard Berger, director of the Seattle Jewish Chapel. “The building has a room designed specifically for performing a tahara. It also has a comfortable room for a ‘shomer’ or watchman, who sits with the deceased at all times between death and burial. We are committed to taking care of the deceased in a respectful manner and in providing satisfaction to the family during a difficult period.”
Assistant Funeral Director Ross Kling adds, “It’s comforting for the soul,” He said the building, which looks like a house, is designed to be discreet. There is an apartment for rent on the top floor.
The prep room is state of the art, said Kling. In the prep room, prayers are read, then there is a ritual washing of the body. Just as there is a Jewish way in living, there is a Jewish way in dying, he said. Leaving the earth as they came into it, the bodies are immediately cleaned and washed. All are buried exactly alike, in a white linen shroud and in identical caskets.
Kling has been the assistant funeral director now for three years, and he said that the deceased always look more at peace after the ritual. He said that people really take comfort that there is a place where Jews can be prepared for burial.
Although the tahara is exclusive to Jews, it includes all branches of Judaism. This is the only facility of its kind in Washington that is exclusively for Jews.
“There’s a definite spiritual component to what I do and I really enjoy that,” Kling said.