Protesters rail against funeral home merger

November 20, 2013
By Suzanne Pollak
Senior Writer
Protesters outside the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday demonstrated against a funeral company merger that might end less expensive funerals for Washington-area Jews. Photo by Suzanne Pollak

Protesters outside the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday demonstrated against a funeral company merger that might end less expensive funerals for Washington-area Jews.
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

About 50 people took their fight against a proposed merger between the two largest funeral homes in the U.S. to the front of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the governmental body charged with deciding whether or not to approve the merger.
Many in the Jewish community here are opposed to Service Corporation International, the largest funeral home, acquiring Stewart Enterprises out of concern that a special contract worked out with Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home of Silver Spring would not be renewed.

Hines-Rinaldi, which is owned by Stewart Enterprises, has a contract with the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee that enables anyone requesting it to have a relatively inexpensive Jewish funeral. Under the contract, that funeral would cost about $4,000 less than an average funeral in this area. It includes a simple pine box casket with a Jewish star and removes much of the grieving family’s stress as the funeral home does not pressure anyone into purchasing extras or paying for anything during the 30 day mourning period.

Those attending the 45-minute rally on Tuesday, which was sponsored by the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, carried signs and chanted, “I can’t afford to die with SCI.” and “Hear our voices. We want choices.”

“Behind these concrete walls, there are people who are not listening. Behind these concrete walls, there are people who are letting the Jewish people down,” declared Ron Halber, JCRC executive director.

“The FTC is an agency charged with protecting consumers, yet they are refusing to address the impact this merger will have on the Jewish community,” said Joe Sandler, president of the JCRC.

The speakers, who stood in front of a plain wooden casket, included rabbis, politicians and community members.

“This is the single hardest moment in a person’s life,” and mourners should not have to worry about funeral details or whether or not they can afford to bury their loved one, said U.S. Rep. John Delaney, a Democrat. “This really gets to the heart of our values as a society, namely the ability of our communities to properly mourn in a dignified and respectful manner.”

Maryland Sen. Roger Manno, a Democrat, called the proposed merger “a bad deal for families” and “anti-competitive.” If the proposed merger was between two telecom companies, there would be congressional hearings televised on C-Span, he noted.
Both Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda and Rabbi Lyle Fishman of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase spoke about how important the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee’s contract with Hines-Rinaldi is to their congregants. More than just keeping costs down, it reduces stress and allows other members of the congregation to be right there helping out, they both said.

Joan Alpert of Kehila Chadasha lost her husband this summer. “I can’t tell you how much less stress is caused by the contract,” she said. And Penny Dash said the contract enabled her mother-in-law to bury her husband properly, saving thousands of dollars she did not have.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett stressed the importance of all communities in the county coming together to fight the merger. “This is something that is not acceptable.”

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