Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Secrets from the Grave

Shlomi Gil

Rabbi Herschel Groman of Jerusalem’s Perushim chevra kaddisha has seen it all. But once a year, on the 7th of Adar, he lets that tough curtain slide

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

 Mishpacha image

“At the end of the day, we know we’re doing holy work. Every week we have a shiur in hilchos kevurah. We go over all the halachos and minhagim again and again, and we bear in mind every day that we’re dealing with a sacred mission” (Photos: Lior Mizrachi, Flash 90)

Rabbi Herschel Groman isn’t a man who shows emotion easily. After close to 40 years of work with the Jerusalem Perushim community’s chevra kaddisha, which for generations has tended to members of the Old Yishuv, he’s widely considered an international authority on burial in Jerusalem. Every time someone crosses over from the Old Yishuv to the Next World, Groman is at the funeral, whether it’s for a simple, nondescript denizen or an internationally known gadol b’Yisrael.

“Today, people like to talk about the emotional aspect of their jobs. When I started out, though, no one talked about their feelings,” he says in his deep, gravelly voice. “We saw it in simple terms: HaKadosh Baruch Hu sends a person down to this world to complete a mission. Everyone has to fulfill his own tafkid the best way he can. At some point, the mission is over.

“I’m not against relating to emotions,” he clarifies. “Maybe it’s a good thing to talk about your feelings. But I don’t know of anyone in the chevra kaddisha who needed psychological help because of the job. At the end of the day, we know we’re doing holy work. Every week we have a shiur in hilchos kevurah. We go over all the halachos and minhagim again and again, and we bear in mind every day that we’re dealing with a sacred mission”

Herschel Groman is an authentic Yerushalmi — a term that carries more cultural than geographical weight, although it is certainly rooted in the courtyards of the Old Yishuv. It comes with a distinctive garb and speech, but mainly, it’s a mindset. When he hears my description of him, he laughs. He’s never seen the need for labels. Maybe it’s because in his occupation, all distinctions fall away, cultural or otherwise.

He tells me at the outset that nothing shakes him, he’s “seen it all.” Nevertheless, I probe. Surely there’s been a funeral that sticks in his memory, one that was perhaps tougher than others?

Aside from his job in the chevra kaddisha — or perhaps because of it — Groman and his bli ayin hara ten sons are also fixtures at Yerushalmi weddings, in the unofficial capacity of mesamchim.

He buries his head in his hands for a moment, then takes a long drag from his cigarette. “Well, the levayah of the Fogel family was hard.”

After a pause, I press for more details.

“I don’t know if there’s anything to tell. The levayah was on Zayin Adar, the day that the members of the chevra kaddisha customarily fast.” Chevra kaddisha members observe a minhag to fast on that day to atone for any lack of respect they may have shown a niftar. “We buried them here, on Har Hamenuchos. I suppose you have to be a certain kind of person not to be affected by exposure to the dead, day and night — but still, you can’t cut yourself off completely from what goes on around you.

“That Motzaei Shabbos I heard about the terrible massacre that took place in Itamar. Five murdered, in their home, Rachmana litzlan. After they were brought here, following the taharah and everything, we had to take the niftarim and place them into the graves. There’s a difference between a Yid who dies a natural death after 90 years of life, and a little child who was slaughtered in his own house, on Leil Shabbos. It’s horrific.

“After that kind of levayah, you go home with a heavy feeling in your heart. You don’t have time to process it, though, because before you know it, there’s another levayah. You have to do it all over again.”

That, it seems, is the essence of his story. Even after the most shattering moments imaginable, he has no time to process the enormity of what’s transpired. There will be another levayah, and then another one; Groman’s work won’t be done until the final redemption. Until that day, the specter of death is just his daily routine. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 698)

Related Stories

Trapping the Disease of Escape

Barbara Bensoussan

Moshe Yachnes, founder of a frum rehab center, is one person on the frontlines who believes addicts ...

The Will to Win

Binyamin Rose

Billionaire Elie Horn has set the bar high. Fighting the battle against assimilation is not enough, ...

Singular Solace

Yisrael Groweiss

Rav Daniel Chaim Alter finds pinpricks of light amid the loss of his wife, Rebbetzin Hinda Rachel Al...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Weekly Struggle
Shoshana Friedman Cover text: promise big and deliver what we promise
Only Through You
Rabbi Moshe Grylak A response to last week’s letter, “Waiting in Passaic”
Are You Making a Kiddush Hashem?
Yonoson Rosenblum In communal affairs, “one bad apple…” often applies
Chance of a Lifetime
Eytan Kobre I identify with the urge to shout, “No, don’t do it!”
Work / Life Solutions with Bunim Laskin
Moe Mernick "You only get every day once"
Seeking a Truly Meaningful Blessing
Dovid Zaidman We want to get married. Help us want to date
Shivah Meditations
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Equivalence between two such polar opposites is puzzling
Magnet Moment
Jacob L. Freedman Everyone’s fighting a battle we know nothing about
Secrets and Surprises
Riki Goldstein Top-secret suits Eli Gerstner just fine
Blasts of Warmth
Riki Goldstein Keeping the chuppah music upbeat in low temperatures
Behind the Scenes
Faigy Peritzman The intrinsic value of each mitzvah
Good Vision
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Good or bad, nice or not? What you see is what you get
Day of Peace
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz On Shabbos we celebrate peace within and without