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February 22, 1991 - Image 23

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-02-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Then they go downstairs to
the morgue.
Just on the right is the
freezer. A security guard
unlocks the door and the cold
air hurtles out like a sharp
smack to the face. Inside are
rows and rows of jars filled
with preserved body parts.
They are multicolored,
spongy.
Mrs. Green's body is
wrapped in plastic; only a
crooked toe is exposed, bear-
ing a tag with Mrs. Green's
name. Her body is removed
from the gurney and placed
onto a stretcher. Her body
will be loaded into the van
and taken to the funeral
home. There, too, she will
find a cold home awaiting
her. Bodies must be kept cool
— to prevent decomposition
— until they are ready for
tahara, Jewish burial prepa-
ration.
During tahara, the body is
washed, the hair is combed
and the fingernails and
toenails are cut. Then the
corpse is wrapped in a plain,
white shroud.
David Techner got his first
job at Kaufman Chapel
when he was 14. With seven
funerals on one Sunday,
then-director Herb Kaufman
was looking for some extra
help. He met up with David
and asked, "Do you own a
dark suit?"
"I think the last dark suit I
had was for my bar mitz-
vah," David responded.
"And that certainly doesn't
fit."
"What about a dark jacket
and pants?"
David went home and ran-
sacked his closet. Wearing
his dark jacket and pants, he
went back to Kaufman's. He
was paid $1.75 an hour to
flag cars, asking drivers,
"Are you going to the funer-
al?" and directing them in
the parking lot.
David Techner was in law
school, married to Herb
Kaufman's daughter, Ilene,
when Herb and Ira Kaufman
approached him about join-
ing the business. The late
Ira Kaufman founded the
chapel, which was run for
many years by his son, Herb,
who is still active in the
business.
At first, Mr. Techner was
not interested. Then Ira
Kaufman brought him a
copy of the Yellow Pages. He
opened it to the section
listing lawyers. "Look at
this," he said. "There are
plenty of attorneys. But how
many good Jewish funeral
directors do you know?"
Mr. Techner decided on a
career change. He enrolled
in mortuary school at Wayne
State University and
graduated in one year.
He spends a lot of time at
high school career days,
speaking to students about

.

the business. They often ask
how he became a funeral di-
rector. Recently, he told a
group of 9th-graders, "I
always liked working with
dead people."
Humor, he says, is a requi-
site part of the job. Without
it, he couldn't get through
the day.
"One thing though, if I
ever get used to it, I better
get out of this business," he
says.
By 10:45 a.m. Kaufman
Chapel has received notice of
another death. It was an
older man, Mr. Z., and the
death was expected. He had
been suffering for years with
multiple sclerosis. He died at
the hospital.
David Techner is in his of-
fice, decorated with pale
modern art works, his WSU
mortuary school diploma,
pictures of his wife, two sons
and daughter. In one photo,
the little girl is eating ice
cream.

Amid the myriad papers
on his half-moon shaped
desk and in his files is one of
Mr. Techner's favorite
quotes: "Alas for those who
cannot sing, but die with all
their music in them."
As he speaks, Mr. Techner
rocks back and forth in his
chair. "Can you imagine be-
ing a Jewish businessman

whose own mother doesn't
want to work with you?"
Mr. Z.'s family arrives. All
he has left are two elderly
brothers in California and
two cousins who will be
making the funeral ar-
rangements. Mr. Z. never
married. One cousin is
slightly disheveled and
fumbling. The other is se-
vere, direct and anxious; he
just flew in from Santa Fe,
N.M.
They meet with Mr.
Techner in a consultation
room. There are tissue boxes
everywhere, thank-you
cards for condolence calls
and donations, and a chart
listing funeral fees. Caskets
range from $475 to $15,500.
The anxious cousin is
nearest Mr. Techner. He
wears a dark blue suit and
sits rigidly in his chair. The
other cousin prefers the
corner, where he rests his
chin on his hand. He doesn't
talk much.
Slowly, quietly, Mr.
Techner asks the inevitable:
Where did Mr. Z. live? How
long was he at the hospital?
What was his business? Did
he belong to any organiza-
tions? How much do they
want to pay the rabbi who
will officiate at the
ceremony? Did Mr. Z. serve
in any wars? What was his
Hebrew name?

"I don't know his Hebrew
name," the anxious cousin
says. "I guess there's a lot of
things we didn't know about
him."
The men are concerned
about the memorial service.
"We're a small family," the
disheveled cousin says. "In
that big room it's going to
seem very empty."
"Don't worry," Mr.
Techner assures him. "We'll
use the small chapel."
The men move on to coffin
selection. Three rooms at the
chapel are filled with coffins.
Most meet halachic
specifications, and many
carry the guarantee that the
coffin is "free of metal and
has been manufactured in a
plant that does not operate
on the Sabbath."

mompr••••• ■•■••■■••■•■■•
dllkierd ■■••■■■•116.11 .160.

Defining death: It
is irreversible, it
is permanent and
the body stops
working.

Jewish tradition states
that a wooden coffin must
not contain metal hardware.
Kaufman offers everything
from pine to maple, with
names like "Bronzetone,"
"Orthodox Poplar" and
"Orthodox Oak." Less ex-
pensive is the cardboard ver-
sion, a solid coffin with a
gray floral pattern. It's
called "Octagon Doeskin."
Toward the end of the
meeting, Mr. Z.'s clothes ar-
rive from the hospital. Stuff-
ed in a white bag, they con-
sist of a worn brown suit,

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

23

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