As more people die during the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the CDC guidelines extends to funeral directors, cemeterians, and cremationists who serve families of the dead. Jewish funeral traditions involve the community in keeping the body company, preparing the body for burial, and coming together to comfort the mourners.
Putting the community at a distance goes against centuries of Jewish funeral traditions. Yet in these unprecedented times, we must physically distance ourselves, even in mourning. Here is a statement by Jewish funeral director Syd Waldman, Waldman Funeral Care about the steps he is taking to keep the public safe.
Waldman Funeral Care Statement
There is an overarching principle in Judaism to live our lives in such a way as to protect health and life above all else.
After consulting with Kavod v’Nichum (Honor & Comfort) and the Congregation Emanu El Cemetery Committee, which I have sat on for more than 20 years; I have created the following guidelines which Waldman Funeral Care (WFC) will follow for the duration of this National (World) Health Crises.
First: WFC will ask the Chevra Kadisha not to come into the Funeral Home to perform a Taharah. This is consistent with latest recommendations from Kavod v’Nichum.
Our panel of experts now strongly recommends that during these periods of widespread transmission of COVID-19, and especially when communities are told to limit personal exposure, Chevra Kadisha groups should not do any form of taharot.
Second: If the Chevra Kadisha wants to send a single member to the Funeral Home to recite the Taharah Prayers in the lobby, WFC will accommodate them.
Third: WFC will strictly enforce the orders of the City, County, State and Federal Health Officials to limit the size of gatherings at the Graveside to eight family members plus the Funeral Director and Clergy person…staying at the 10-person limit. Everyone will maintain personal distancing of six plus feet.
Fourth: To help facilitate #3, WFC will not offer a tent or chairs at the Graveside Service.
When there’s no tent/chairs available, family members will take advantage of the open space and self-distance with additional space between themselves, the casket and Clergy. If a family member needs a chair, they can bring one for themselves.
Fifth: WFC will provide small plastic bags of sand to each mourner to place on top of the casket, rather than touch a shovel/trowel handle. The Clergy will continue to have the opportunity to pour Israeli soil on the casket.
Sixth: WFC will only offer the laminated Kaddish Cards and not printed Service Folders. WFC staff will hand them out directly from the large zip lock bag in which they are stored in, so as not to touch them before the family members take one. We will announce these cards are to be taken home. Kippah will be treated in much the same way as the Kaddish Cards. We will ask the family members to take them home.
Seven: WFC staff is working hard to get the necessary equipment to be able to live-stream the Graveside Service. Allowing those additional family members who are not able to gather at the graveside to be a part of the service remotely, thereby helping them find some comfort and closure.
This is a Spiritually painful time for me. I have prided myself in delivering a sacred Jewish Funeral for a Jewish deceased and their loving family. I know the families I work with and the Jewish Community professionals will understand these extraordinary measures I am taking to keep everyone safe during these days.
From Gail Rubin
THANK YOU TO ALL FUNERAL DIRECTORS AND OTHERS WHO WORK WITH FAMILIES WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED DEATH IN THESE TIMES.