According to Rabbi Brian I. Michelson, there is an ancient Jewish custom that requires pouring out any stored water one may have on hand upon learning of a death in the neighborhood.
Some authorities, notes Michelson, say the custom is based on a verse from the book of Second Samuel: “For we shall surely die as water is spilled.”
But Michelson has his own idea about the origin of the custom.
“Water is a vital necessity,” the rabbi said. “Without water, life quickly becomes impossible. We pour out this need as a sign of the depth of our mourning.
Michelson of Reformed Oheb Sholom Congregation, Wyomissing, was among local faith leaders who participated in an interfaith memorial service Saturday for seven babies whose unclaimed ashes had been stored in the Berks County coroner’s office.
The service at Charles Evans Cemetery was coordinated by Chloe and Adam Ciferri of the Adalyn Rose Foundation.
The Exeter Township couple lost daughter Adalyn Rose in the second trimester of her pregnancy in 2017. They founded the organization in her name in 2020 to help other families deal with the grief and trauma of pregnancy and the loss of a child.
Adam Ciferri contacted the Berks County Coroner’s Office after reading a social media post detailing how the cremated remains of a dozen infants stored in the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office were to be given a final resting place.
After learning that there were seven sets of unclaimed infant cremains in the office of Berks coroner John Fielding, the Adalyn Rose Foundation paid the costs of their release. The Ciferris also contacted the nonprofit Reading Cemetery, which donated a niche in its columbarium, and a potter in Oregon, who donated the urns.
About 100 members of the greater Reading community attended the ceremony on Saturday in the courtyard of the Chapel Lawn Mausoleum cemetery.
Small white cylindrical urns were neatly lined up on a wooden table as the rabbi and others read scriptures and poems and led prayers.
“We mourn the loss of the potential of these lives,” Michelson said. “Hands that won’t be held, smiles that won’t be seen, growth and accomplishments never to be celebrated. And above all, the death of our hopes and dreams for all of them.
Other contributors to the service included the Ciferris, Fielding; Reverend Rebecca Knox, pastor of the Lutheran Church of Sion in the canton of Alsace and chaplain of Reading Hospital; Reverend Mark Stryjak and Reverend Ty McMillian, also hospital chaplains, and Stephanie Arentz, pro re nata, or PRN, duty chaplain for the hospital.
“We all worked together to give these children a place to rest in peace,” Knox said. “These children finally have a place to be remembered, to visit, to possibly be joined by others who love them.”
Knox crawled slowly on his hands and knees in a semi-circle at the foot of the table, pouring water from a pitcher seven times, once for each of the babies.
The ceremony also included the release of seven butterflies, symbolizing the souls of the seven children, and the reading of the children’s names.
Participants were asked to place a pebble on the table next to the ballot boxes to signify that the lost babies are no longer unclaimed.
“As a community, we claim these seven children as our own,” Adam Ciferri said. “They are no longer unclaimed, but loved by this community here today and forever, as if they were ours.”