By Eric Berger / Staff for Jewish Exponent
RACHEL ZELDIN had a great uncle whom she describes as "a West Coast hippie" who worked for jazz bands and went on the road with celebrities during his life.
That free-spirited nature made for a satisfying existence but didn't include precautions more conventional people employ, like taking out life insurance or discussing with loved ones what to do when he died. So, when her uncle did die in 2011, Zeldin and her mother were left to handle the funeral arrangements without any instructions. It felt as if a body had been left on their doorstep.
"I said I could pick out a hotel and a restaurant faster than I can find a funeral home," said Zeldin, who lives in Bucks County.
Zeldin, 29, saw a void of information in the space where mourners are often dealing with an overwhelming loss. So like many another entrepreneur, she had an idea for how to fill the gap: create a website that allows people to research a funeral home in Philadelphia - reading what it offers and feedback from past customers - the same way they would use a travel site to learn about a hotel in Bermuda during happier times.
"It was really shocking to see how little information there was for us. I said to my mom, 'Why is this so difficult?' If you don't already have arrangements, you don't realize how many choices there are, and every detail and option you include adds additional cost," Zeldin said.
The website, imsorrytohear.com, provides visitors with a directory of funeral homes in the tri-state area - with reviews - and other helpful information, like the difference in price between premium hardwood versus common hardwood caskets and the fact that holding a wake the same day as the burial, rather than the night before, could reduce cost.
"There's often times a price difference of hundreds or thousands of dollars for near identical services. One guy tells you it takes $2,500. Another says 'Our basic service starts at $6,500,' " Zeldin said. "If we were educated consumers, they wouldn't just be able to throw a number out there and hope it sticks."
Zeldin said the site is intended for the general population, not just Jews, but includes Jewish funeral homes. In fact, she asserted, Jews often have an easier time planning funerals than other groups because they don't have as many options to choose from.
When the idea for the website first occurred to Zeldin, she had been working in finance for several years and was unsure whether to continue in that field. In 2011, she decided that she needed a change and enrolled in a six-month graphic design program in Tel Aviv, with her start-up business in mind.
She hopes to make money through selling advertising on the site.
Zeldin said her business is currently at a "growth" stage, as she works to create awareness in the industry, and she plans to expand beyond the three states. "I just felt like, it's now or never. I'm just going to dedicate myself to this, and if it doesn't succeed, at least I tried to do something that I feel is good for the community,'' Zeldin said.