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Paperman patriarch revered for dignity and compassion

n this 2015 photo, Herbert Paperman, at front left, poses with wife Leila and sons, from left, Ross, Laurence and Joseph at an event of the Côte St. Luc Men's Club in which he was active. CHARLES EKLOVE PHOTO

Herbert Paperman, the patriarch of the funeral home that has served the Jewish community for close to a century, died on Aug. 6. He was 92.

He was the third generation to head the family business, and remained active in its direction until the end of his life.

His grandfather, Lazar Paperman, led the community’s chevra kadisha (burial society) in the early part of the 20th century. Seeing the need for a Jewish funeral home, he founded the company during the First World War.

The custom of the small, but growing, community until that time had been to hold funerals at a synagogue or a private residence, often making arrangements with non-Jewish funeral homes.

Paperman and Sons Inc. operated out of a location on St-Elizabeth Street until 1927, Lazar working with his sons Abraham (Herbert’s father), Max and Sam. A larger premises on St-Urbain Street served the community for the next 26 years.

Herbert had joined the business by the time Paperman built its own funeral home on Côte des Neiges Road in the early 1950s. This more dignified setting was the scene of the vast majority of Jewish funerals in Montreal until 1994 when Paperman’s current spacious facility opened on Jean Talon Street.

Herbert took over the running of the company from his father and uncle Sam. His sons Joseph, Laurence and Ross would in time join him as directors.

The fifth generation is now taking the reins.

Paperman is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Leila Weinrauch.

Paperman was rigorous in maintaining the strictest observance of Jewish ritual, as well as personal attention.

“Engaged as we are in a profession that so intimately touches the lives of the community, it has always been our very earnest endeavour to perfect a service that would be genuinely helpful,” he said. “We are mindful of every need, faithful in our observance of every tradition in accordance with Halachah, watchful of every detail. The responsibility to conduct every funeral service with reverence and dignity, we unreservedly accept and honour as a sacred trust.”

At his funeral on Aug. 8, more than 30 rabbis from across the denominational spectrum walked ahead of his casket as it left the building, in an expression of unity in their respect for him.

Paperman was able to find the balance between tradition and accommodating the changing wishes of mourners. For example, female pallbearers, once unheard of, were permitted many years ago.

Paperman and his family have been major philanthropists, particularly generous to Combined Jewish Appeal.

Within hours of Paperman’s death, hundreds of condolences had appeared on the company website.

“[T]here is no one in our community whose life has not been touched by the Paperman family in our most vulnerable times of need. [Herbert’s] unwavering commitment and example was his legacy that was passed on to the next generation. We were always looked after with dignity, compassion and comfort,” wrote Carol and Wally Shore.

Mildred and Morton Besnner contributed: “Our community has lost a devoted, sincere, compassionate, wise and caring leader, a mentor to all who had the privilege to work with him and the opportunity to learn from his example, what it means to be a real  mensch.”

Barbi and Stan Plotnick wrote that their dear friend “lived a life to which most aspire. He succeeded with heart, compassion, and respect for everyone he met and everything he did. He loved his family, friends and community, and was loved by them. But most of all he left a legacy in his family, who continue his ideals, devotion and commitment.”

As Rabbi Wilfred Shuchat observes in his history of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, The Gates of Heaven, “No consideration of Jewish burial in Montreal would be complete without acknowledging the contribution of the Paperman family to the concept of Jewish burial. The fact that theirs was a business operated for profit does not alter the fact that the Papermans brought order, dignity and a high regard for Jewish law into the act and process of Jewish burial.”