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Zion Memorial Chapel was created in response to a need in the Jewish Community for an independently owned funeral home, with separate facilities. Prior to Zion Memorial Chapel’s opening, families were confined to selecting a funeral home with an international conglomerate affiliation and incredibly high costs, or alternatively, selecting a funeral home in a shared, non-sectarian facility.

Recognizing this void in the Jewish Community, the former manager of Brooklyn’s Shomrei Hadas Chapel created Zion Memorial Chapel. Founded on the concept of providing personal and compassionate funeral service at better than competitive costs, in an all-Jewish facility, Zion has proven to be a funeral home like no other.

In June of 2003, we were featured in the New York Times. Journalist Yilu Zhao wrote beautifully about our history, mission and our vision for the future:

Its stained-glass window of doves soaring over Jerusalem was designed by a Brooklyn rabbi. Its immaculatetahara room, where the deceased is cleansed and clothed in a white shroud, has been deemed kosher by Westchester's orthodox synagogues. Its shomers, the around-the-clock honor guards for bodies before burial, have been recruited from New York City's Jewish seminaries. But the owner of the Zion Memorial Chapel here is, in his own words, "an Italian boy from the Lower East Side."

When Vincent Graziano, opened a Jewish funeral home in Mamaroneck, seven years ago, he had a lot of trepidation. Would the local Jewish community embrace his business? Or would they exclude him as an outsider?

The first year Mr. Graziano, who also owns the funeral home Coxe and Graziano, performed only 16 funerals and had to dig into his savings to keep the door open. Last year, he held 150 funerals.

"The Jewish law doesn't say you have to be a Jew to be in the Jewish funeral business," Mr. Graziano said. "It all comes down to respecting the Jewish faith. The funeral is for the peace of the mind of the living. Whatever accomplishes that, we bend backwards to accommodate it."

Since 1991, the Jewish population in Westchester has grown by 41 percent, to 129,000, according to a study released last week by the UJA-Federation of New York. That growth is part of a trend that began at least two decades ago, when successful Jews started to move from New York City to settle in the suburbs. With more Jews living in Westchester, more Jews are dying here as well.

"There is a Yiddish word, mensch," said Cantor Alan Sokoloff of Westchester Jewish Center of Mamaroneck. "That's how I would describe Vincent. He does anything he can to help the family to get through the difficult time. He shows a tremendous amount of compassion. He cares about people more than caring openly about the bottom line. That's the highest compliment I can give anybody."

Before Zion Memorial Chapel came to Boston Post Road, the growing number of Jewish families in Westchester buried their loved ones through a funeral home outside the county or used one of the nation's largest funeral home chains, Service Corporation International, which had kosher facilities.

Although Riverside Memorial Chapel, I. J. Morris Funeral Directors, Garlick Funeral Home and Heilman-Garlick Memorial Chapel - once independently owned and now part of Service Corporation International - are kosher, they charge higher fees than Zion Memorial.

A typical funeral handled by Zion Memorial costs $2,500, excluding fees charged by the cemetery, while the average price charged by one of the chain stores is between $4,000 and $5,000, said Joel Lieberman, a lawyer active in the Jewish community in White Plains.

"People working for the conglomerate would push for an elaborate casket," said Mr. Lieberman. "They would point to the simple wood caskets and say to grieving relatives, `you are going to bury him in that?"'

Jewish law requires that a body be buried in a simple wood casket made without hardware, so that the casket and the body disintegrate more quickly and the deceased's soul is released more quickly.

"It's not our company policy to pressure anyone," said Greg Bolton, a spokesman for Service Corporation International, which is based in Houston and owns 1,140 funeral homes in the United States. "We give people choice. Wherever we are in the country, our prices are always competitive."

Mr. Graziano family has been in the funeral business for generations. When his grandparents moved to Lower Manhattan from Italy about a century ago, they opened a funeral home on the corner of Mulberry and Hester Streets. When they died, Mr. Graziano's father took over the business and raised his four sons in three rooms above the funeral home.

Mr. Graziano got his first job as a licensed funeral director at Shomrei Hadas, a Jewish funeral home in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. The state required any funeral home to. have at least one undertaker's license, which involved taking an embalmment class. But Jewish laws consider embalmment a mutilation of the body and forbid Jews to perform it. So Shomrei Hadas used Mr. Graziano's license to keep its door open. The owner of the funeral home, Rabbi David Grinerman, took an interest in Mr. Graziano and he soon became versed in the details of a Jewish funeral.

When Rabbi Grinerman and other Brooklyn rabbis discovered seven years ago that there was no independent Jewish funeral home in Westchester, they "pushed and cajoled" Mr. Graziano into establishing one, he said. By then, he already owned a funeral home on Boston Post Road, and when a house next door became available, he bought and expanded it, and one of the Brooklyn rabbis named it Zion Memorial Chapel. In the family tradition, Mr. Graziano's daughter, Jennifer Graziano, has helped her father to run the business.

Mr. Graziano has not publicized his Little Italy upbringing much or his Brooklyn training in the business. But he soon won over many rabbis in Westchester. They said they liked the way he and his staff conducted business. Among his fans are Rabbis Jeffrey Segelman and Sandy Bogin of Mamaroneck, Rabbis Michael Cahana and Melvin Sirner of New Rochelle and Rabbi Robert Rothman of Rye Brook.

Zion Memorial employees help grieving relatives in and out of cars, take bottled water to cemeteries in warm months for mourners to drink, mark the cars in the funeral processions with flags so traffic won't interrupt them and never leave mourners grieving by themselves at the cemetery.

For Mr. Graziano, there is nothing Jewish or Italian about getting these little things right.

“People are not that different,” he said “They all grieve. It doesn’t matter whether the dead wears a shroud and is in a pine Casket or wears a suit and is in a copper casket. We are all the same.”