Funeral home serves Jewish community

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:27

First of its kind in the county, Apter’s follows customs of various sects NEWTON — Jason Apter is the owner of J.L. Apter Memorial Chapel in Newton, the first Jewish funeral home in Sussex County. A fourth generation business and funeral director, Apter’s angle is traditional with a twist. Due to the religious requirements of the Jewish community, a special segment of the funeral business exists; one that the Apter family have been involved with since emigrating from Russia over 100 years ago and establishing Philip Apter & Son in Newark in 1902. The beliefs of Judaism regarding burial differ from those of Christianity. Although the three primary sects in Judaism: orthodox, conservative and reform have their own funeral customs, there are some common themes. Burial is done usually within 48 hours after death and never on the Sabbath, which is Saturday. “For the strictly orthodox, the rabbis from the burial society called the chevra kaddisha perform a special ceremony where the deceased is washed and the body is dressed in shrouds and buried in a plain wooden casket with three holes drilled into it so that the earth can make contact with the body,” explained Apter. “Wood will degrade over time so we will turn back to the earth. In Judaism, we believe that the soul ascends immediately when someone dies, and that we live on in the stars above us.” The conservative Jews can go more traditional or modern at their funerals while the reform require no washing of the deceased and may wait two to three days to bury the body. In all the cases, the rabbis determine when the burial will take place. Philip Apter & Son stayed independent until 1984 when many family-owned funeral homes were bought out by large conglomerates, one them being Dignity out of Houston, Texas. Although the Apters remained running the operations, a corporate structure was put in place. “After Dignity bought us out, there was no connection to the community. You have to answer to a corporation and a board who put prices forward,” he said. Motivated by a weak economy and looking to provide less costly funerals, Apter went on and formed J.L. Apter Memorial Chapels, Inc.a 501-C3 non- profit company that fills a niche. “In 2008, I went back to my great-grandfather’s roots and opened J.L.Apter in Cedar Grove and Dover. For every funeral, we donate up to $500 back to the Jewish community upon the desired request of the families,” he said. “After paying expenses and salaries, whatever is left over goes back to the community to local Jewish organizations.” With a growing business and advice from a local Sussex county rabbi, Apter opened a location last April in Newton. “Two generations later, my family has followed the Jews. From Newark to Maplewood then Livingston to Morris County, Now we are in Sussex County waiting for the Jewish community to make its big push.” Being benevolent is the main goal of the Apter family. He and his wife of 28 years Colleen live in Fredon and have a close connection to Newton Medical Center where they serve on the foundation board of trustees for the past three years. This holiday season, they are providing electric menorahs and electric Sabbath candles to patients rooms at Newton Medical Center. “For those who are in the hospital and want to celebrate Sabbath, they will now have an opportunity to do so. We feel it’s important to serve the Jewish community in all aspects. One of my goals is to bring the Jewish community together,” said Apter. “It is important to carry on my family business. I take a lot of pride in taking my family’s name to the next level. When people call Apter, they get an Apter on the other end of the phone.” J.L. Apter Memorial Chapels, Inc. 156 Main Street, Newton, 973-383-3333