(Courtesy of NASCK) As a young man, Rabbi Elchonon Zohn began what would become a lifetime career by serving as an overnight shomer for a rebbe at his yeshiva who had died suddenly. His innate sensitivity and eventual expertise in the halachot of death and burial led him to create the National Association of Chevra Kadisha (NASCK) in 1996.
In the years since then, Rabbi Zohn has responded to the needs of the times, creating such initiatives as the EMES card program, which assures a Jew is treated in accordance with Halacha in a medical emergency, and TEAM Shabbos, an annual event that empowers communities nationwide to open conversations about end-of-life issues,
In order to serve Jews across the country and across the spectrum of observance, from ultra-Orthodox to non-observant, NASCK maintains four different websites, staffs a 24/6 hotline, and distributes thousands of brochures and books promoting krvurah k’Halacha each year.
NASCK is also the only resource able to assist chevrot kadisha with practical guidance in the myriad details of their avodat kodesh. Rabbi Zohn, as director of the Chevra Kadisha of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, as well as the founder and president of NASCK, answers urgent calls every day from rabbis, chevrot kadisha, professionals in the funeral home and cemetery industry, and laypeople regarding complex situations that require immediate resolution. He also conducts chevra kadisha trainings in communities throughout North America.
In addition to raising the standards of chevrot kadisha, NASCK has addressed Jewish funeral home and cemetery practices nationally, making adherence to Halachah more achievable and more widespread. In 1971, in the Queens/Long Island area, taharahs were performed on just 5% of Jews at Jewish funeral homes; NASCK’s work has brought that percentage up to 50%.
In recent years, a new threat to Jewish practice has emerged: the escalating rate of cremation among Jews. While cremation was unheard of among Jews a few decades ago, the rates are now 40%—and climbing rapidly. “There is hardly a day in which I am not involved in dealing with a cremation,” Rabbi Zohn says.
In response to this crisis, in January NASCK opened the South Florida Jewish Cemetery, a non-profit cemetery whose mission is to provide dignified, halachically correct burial for all Jews, regardless of their means or affiliation. SFJC has already buried over 20 meisei mitzvah, the majority of whom were to be cremated. A uniquely beautiful and well-run cemetery that offers burial at a far lower cost than other Jewish cemeteries, SFJC enables Jewish families to choose burial rather than be forced to cremate because of cost considerations. Close to 70% of the people being buried at South Florida Jewish Cemetery were considering cremation, but will now be buried in accordance with Halacha.
The community is invited to support NASCK by attending a breakfast reception on Sunday, August 4, at 9 a.m., at the home of Linda and Avi Laub, 25 Swayze Street in West Orange, New Jersey. Rabbi Zohn will be speaking on the topic of “The Challenge of Cremation: Tools and Strategies based on Torah Values.” To learn more about the many vital projects of NASCK, please join us this Sunday, or visit www.nasck.org.