Photo: The pavilion at Mt. Sinai cemetery will soon be equipped with streaming technology for services.
Planning your end of life arrangements is not a task that anyone looks forward to, but taking care of the details is “truly the greatest gift someone can give their family,” says Ira Mann, general manager at Mt. Sinai Cemetery in north Phoenix.
Ira cannot stress the importance of preplanning enough. “Preplanning makes it easy – you are doing something you want to do, no one is making those decisions for you,” he says. Some of the decisions include whether or not to have taharah, be buried side by side or companion and what color monument to get. “It’s always nice when people can make these decisions together rather than having nothing to do with their final wishes.”
Another advantage to preplanning is that you can make payments, without interest, rather than your family having to come up with $10,000-$15,000 all at one time. It’s a hard enough emotional burden when someone passes, without adding a financial hardship on top of it.
“If they have it taken care of, it’s a one phone call process,” explains Ira. “They call the mortuary up, and the wheels start turning, and the family can just concentrate on taking care of the people they need to take care of.”
Ira says that the pandemic has “opened up people’s eyes” to their own mortality, and he has been unusually busy with preplanning appointments.
He started working at Mt. Sinai in 2016 after having been in management over the years.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” says Ira. “I love meeting people. When they’re here, and they’re preplanning, we are laughing and talking about buying your last condo – it’s like your last real estate investment.”
He says that COVID has changed the hugging and hand-shaking that usually accompanies these meetings. It has also changed how they handle services.
They have a large covered pavilion at the cemetery where they hold most services. They are installing equipment that will allow them to stream services so that people who are unable to travel, or because of social distancing would otherwise be unable to attend.
“When we are doing services, we put 10 chairs out there and space everyone six feet apart,” says Ira. “I have to look out for the welfare for everybody at the end of the day.”
For the recent service for Rabbi Micah Caplan, because of the number of people who wanted to pay their respects, Ira arranged for them to do a “drive-by” through the cemetery to keep everyone safe.
Perhaps because of the intimacy of the circumstance under which they meet and the fact that Mt. Sinai is privately owned with a small staff, Ira builds a rapport with all the people who come there and refers to them all as “my family.”
“I’m there from the beginning of the process all the way through the end of the process,” he states. “I always tell everybody, ‘I’m going to make this as easy for you as physically possible, and if you have any questions stop me, I’ll answer anything to help out.’”
Mt. Sinai opened in 2005, and they are currently in the planning stages for the next 30 years. The cemetery has 32 total acres of land and is now using five and a half acres.
The cemetery accommodates the whole Jewish community, affiliated or not. “We have the Orthodox section. We have sections where everyone buried there has to be Jewish. We have the Ruth and Rachel section, sections for Temple Chai, Temple Kol Ami, intermarried and then we have the cremation area – we hit all the bases,” says Ira.
Something that sets Mt. Sinai apart is that it has sidewalks placed in front of all the plots. No one will ever be walking on anyone’s grave. And because of the desert landscaping, no lawnmowers are driving around either.
“Also, whether you’re in an east- or west-facing grave, everyone’s head faces towards Jerusalem,” says Ira. “As far as people who want to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, for me, there’s no other place. We treat people with the utmost respect.”
Mt. Sinai is located at 24210 N. 68th St. in Phoenix (off East Pinnacle Peak Road). For more information, call 480-585-6060 or visit mtsinaicemetery.com.