D.C. Jews protest funeral providers’ proposed merger

WASHINGTON (JTA) – D.C. Jews took their fight against a proposed merger between the two largest funeral homes in the United States to the front of the Federal Trade Commission, which will decide whether or not to approve the merger.

Many in the Jewish community in the Washington D.C. area are opposed to Service Corporation International, the country’s largest funeral home, acquiring Steward Enterprises, the country’s second largest funeral provider, out of concern that a special contract for Jewish funerals worked out with Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home of Silver Spring would not be renewed.

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Hines-Rinaldi, which is owned by Steward Enterprises, has a contract with the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee that enables anyone requesting it to have a relatively inexpensive Jewish funeral. Under the contract, that funeral would cost about $4,000 less than an average funeral in the Washington DC area.

Those attending the 45-minute rally on Tuesday, which was sponsored by the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee and Jewish Community Relations Committee of Greater Washington, carried signs and chanted, “I can’t afford to die with SCI.” and “Hear our voices. We want choices.”

“Behind these concrete walls, there are people who are not listening. Behind these concrete walls, there are people who are letting the Jewish people down,” declared Ron Halber, Jewish Community Relations Council executive director.

“The FTC is an agency charged with protecting consumers, yet they are refusing to address the impact this merger will have on the Jewish community,” said Joe Sandler, president of the Community Relations Council.  “The only adequate remedy to the competitive problems raised by the merger is to prevent SCI from acquiring Hines-Rinaldi,” Sandler said.

The speakers, who stood in front of a plain wooden casket, included a wide variety of rabbis, politicians and community members.

“This is the single hardest moment in a person’s life” and a mourner should not have to worry about funeral details or whether or not they can afford to bury their loved one, said U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.). “This really gets to the heart of our values as a society, namely the ability of our communities to properly mourn in a dignified and respectful manner.”

Maryland Sen. Roger Manno, a Democrat, called the proposed merger “a bad deal for families” and “anti-competitive.” If the proposed merger was between two telecom companies, there would be congressional hearings televised on C-Span, he noted.

Following the rally, several officials from the Jewish community entered the Federal Trade Commission to meet with the head of the Bureau of Competition.