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D.C. Jews protest proposed merger of funeral providers

Washington area Jews demonstrate outside the Federal Trade Commission on Nov. 19 2013 to protest a funeral homes merger (Suzanne Pollak)

Washington area Jews demonstrate outside the Federal Trade Commission on Nov. 19 2013 to protest a funeral homes merger (Suzanne Pollak)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Washington-area Jews demonstrated outside the Federal Trade Commission against a proposed merger between the two largest U.S. funeral homes.

Demonstrators at the 45-minute rally on Tuesday were protesting the acquisition of Steward Enterprises, the second largest funeral provider in the United States, by Service Corporation International, the largest funeral home. They carried signs and chanted, “I can’t afford to die with SCI” and “Hear our voices, we want choices.”

The FTC will decide whether or not to approve the merger.

Many Washington-area Jews fear that a contract for Jewish funerals worked out with the Steward-owned Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home of Silver Spring, Md., would not be renewed. Under the contract with the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee, Hines-Rinaldi allows for a Jewish funeral that costs approximately $4,000 less than the average funeral in the Washington area.

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

The rally was sponsored by the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee and JCRC of Greater Washington, whose president, Joe Sandler, said the FTC is refusing to address the impact of the merger on the Jewish community.

“The only adequate remedy to the competitive problems raised by the merger is to prevent SCI from acquiring Hines-Rinaldi,” Sandler said at the rally.

Rabbis, politicians and community members were among the rally speakers, who stood in front of a plain wooden casket.

“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 State 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 FTC to meet with the head of the Bureau of Competition.

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