25 March 2020 (Subject to Change)
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and following the guidance of public health officials and government orders, the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council has established the following guidelines for Jewish funerals in Colorado.
As rabbis, we believe that Jewish rituals and customs offer mourners valuable tools for confronting loss and grief and we encourage our members to counsel those they serve using these practices, as best as they can be carried out under the circumstances. We also recognize that this is a sha’at dachak—an emergency situation that calls for upholding the value of pikuah nefesh—a supreme concern for human life and safety. We urge for the expediting of funerals soon after death so that mourners have the opportunity to grieve immediately. We are encouraging rabbis to conduct funerals, including eulogies, in accordance with their particular practice as well as adhering to the following guidance.
- Intake meetings between families and clergy are an important touchpoint and can be therapeutic encounters. Nonetheless, under the circumstances, we urge rabbis to meet with families only by video-conferencing (or by phone, if need be).
- All services will be held graveside only. Chairs should only be set up for individuals who need them and should be spaced a minimum of six feet apart.
- Given the recent mandates by authorities, in-person attendance should ideally be strictly limited to only immediate family—with no more than 10 people in attendance, utilizing appropriate social distancing.
- Family members who have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 (including the deceased), may not attend the funeral. Anyone who is feeling ill or has symptoms of COVID-19 are also asked not to attend funerals in person.
- Families are encouraged to use live-streaming/recording of the ceremony so that those not attending physically can view it remotely—or to make use of their own technology for such purposes. Feldman Mortuary and other mortuaries offer these services. Families may consider planning a larger memorial service at a later time, in accordance with changing public health and safety guidelines.
- If available, funeral homes should provide hand sanitizer and tissues for mourners. All in attendance are encouraged to use the utmost care to reduce the chances of virus transmission.
- Funeral home staff will handle and carry the casket to the grave. We ask that there be no pallbearers.
- Primary mourners should tear their own k’riah ribbons or clothing. The mortuary will take appropriate precautions when handing out ribbons, prayer cards, and other materials.
- Rabbis and mourners should use extreme caution in placing earth in the grave. Mourners may place a small amount of earth in the grave with their hands or a disposable cup rather than with a shovel. Due to the possibility of virus transmission, we will not be passing shovels. Filling the remainder of the grave should be done by cemetery staff.
- Instead of forming lines to greet and comfort mourners at the conclusion of the service (shurot), rabbis can offer the traditional words of comfort to everyone positioned where they are, inviting any non-mourners present to repeat the words.
- As painful as this is, those present at the funeral should not hug or touch one another. Instead, putting one’s hand over one’s own heart is an appropriate expression of caring.
- Shivah should occur via live-streaming platforms. Families are encouraged to invite those who will not be attending the funeral to “drop in” via video technology to join them in the comfort of their home and to consider using that time for longer sharing about the deceased in ways that the short graveside service won’t allow.
- Rabbis should provide mourners with electronic or photocopied prayers rather than bound siddurim from their synagogue. When conducting shiva minyanim online, rabbis are encouraged to screen-share the prayers.
- Liturgical choices, such as whether those joining remotely can be counted as part of the minyan for the recitation of kaddish, should be made by individual rabbis. For those situations where rabbis feel that it is not appropriate to say the mourner’s kaddish, here are some suggestions for prayers that can be said in lieu of kaddish: (https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/prayer-when-there-no-minyan-say-kaddish)
- Some families, in consultation with their rabbi, may choose to schedule memorials or unveilings at a later time, when people are once again able to gather. We support our member rabbis in counselling mourners according to their own outlook and recognizing the needs of individuals. Nonetheless, we urge rabbis to guide mourners in their grief process by providing Jewish customs and practices that support mourners in the immediacy of a loss.
Please also refer to the memo copied below from Feldman Mortuary, for your reference. Note that the Feldman memo preceded this memo by a few days and does not totally conform with the RMRC guidelines presented here.
We hope these guidelines offer support to our colleagues and we recognize that the situation is ever-changing. We encourage our members to share their experiences and insights as we continue to update our policies. Please share your comments and suggestions with Rabbi Gruenwald at [email protected] or 303-999-5250.
Hazak, Hazak, v’Nitchazek – May we each find our strength in the days and weeks ahead, and may our collective wisdom and compassion be a source of strength to one another and the people we serve.
Rabbi Salomon Gruenwald
Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council
TO: Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council
From: Feldman Mortuary
RE: Memorial Experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic
Feldman Mortuary is continuing to support, counsel, and serve the families of our community with the same level of staff, equipment, and service as before the pandemic struck our society. Below is an outline of how we are addressing each issue:
Protection of our staff and the Chevra Kaddisha:
The funeral industry has always used Universal Precautions which is an approach to infection control to treat all human blood and certain human body fluids as if they were known to be infectious for HIV, HBV, and other bloodborne pathogens.
These precautions include:
- Hand Hygiene: washing before putting on gloves, washing after wearing gloves
- Gloves: wearing whenever we handle a body, instruments, cots, tables, bins, materials
- Mask, Googles/Eye Visor, and/or Face Shield: masks are worn under the face shield
- Gown: Disposable gowns to protect against splashing of blood, body fluids, secretions or excretions.
- Shoe covers: used not to spread into other areas of the preparation area and facility
Every body that comes into our care is bathed and sanitized out of proper dignity and care. This includes but is not limited to the use of soap and hot water and/or disinfectant spray. This is done immediately upon arrival of the body and/or upon the arrival of the staff each day, at the end of each day, and every day the body is in our care regardless of Tahara.
Chevra Kaddisha and Tahara
Both the Men’s (Rocky Mountain Chevra Kaddisha) and Women’s (Joanne O’Connor) use the practice of Universal Precautions in addition to following new communication and guidelines provided by the National Association of Chevra Kadisha. The only change the NASCK has recommended is to use tishah kabin instead of using a mikvah. Our community does not have a mikvah for burial preparation and always has used the pouring of water over the body.
Shmeerah can still be performed without any concern at this time.
These go by many names: Intake, family conference, arrangement conference, etc. The time we spend with families to create the memorial experience has changed drastically.
Feldman Mortuary will now only work with families via video conference (Zoom), email, and phone calls. We will not meet with our client-families in their homes or here at the funeral home. All paperwork, service items (including casket) can be selected from images that are easily emailed.
Feldman Mortuary supports the community’s response to close all the synagogues and would probably have done the same for our chapel if we were not already closed for renovations.
Feldman Mortuary is stating to client-families that Graveside services are the only option at this time and planting the seed that a larger, more public memorial event can take place in the future. Since the start of the outbreak, we have served approximately 20 families. Not one of which were upset, disgruntled, or tried to push us for anything but a graveside service.
Options for the Graveside Service:
Streaming video of service
We have been successful in streaming the funeral services via a service called: Periscope. This is a free service to the family and easily accessed by the community either on their computers or mobile devices. Furthermore, the stream is recorded and is hosted on the Periscope platform for some time allowing for people to view the service at their convenience. We recognize there are several options for streaming, however, this is our experience and comfort level. We simply use an iPad and tripod for a static placement.
Some families have brought their own devices to either Skype or FaceTime, but those options are limiting to the number of individuals that can view the event.
It is our recommendation that cemeteries do NOT place chairs for more than the immediate family. Even then, we are cautioned for we believe providing a physical item only encourages touching and possible spreading of the virus. That is truly up to the cemetery executives and boards.
Greatest question that has yet to be answered perfectly. One family brought their own gloves. We have provided sanitary wipes. Some people have chosen not to shovel at all. This is up to the individual. Feldman Mortuary cannot and will not provide gloves for all funerals and all attendees. These Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items are going to be limited to everyone and I must have these available for my funeral directors and Chevra Kadisha.
Handing out of Kaddish Cards, kriah ribbons, the knife, other items
We will be trying to limit our exchanging and handling of items. Our directors will have sanitary wipes on hand for these sorts of items, recognizing, these wipes are not 100% protective.
Feldman directors are wiping the handles and other areas of the casket after we put it in the hearse. We will not have pallbearers shuffle pass the handle to the next person but rather pull the casket out, hold, and then allow the pallbearers to grab their spot on the handle. This will be the same procedure for when we place the casket on the lowering device.
The social distancing component is not able to be met in this circumstance. If this is a collective concern of the RMRC, we can always preset the casket with cemetery representatives and funeral directors whom would need to wear face covering of some sort.
Here again, I am concerned with providing face masks to pallbearers for every funeral. It is a publicized fear these items will be in short supply sooner than later and are more important for body preparation than carrying a casket.
Shurah and Shiva
This is purely a Rabbinic decision whether or not to have families walk between the lines.
As for Shiva, obviously, no in-person but there are many options from our standpoint:
- Zoom video option (the Reform Movement has a video solution)
- Call in to a phone with a speaker phone option
- Families can set specific times to receive phone calls, video calls, etc.
- No sending of food without asking the family first
Feldman Mortuary welcomes thoughts, insights, and suggestions to our current policies. This is a fluid situation and every day brings us a new challenge. We will keep you informed as we adapt to the new landscape. Thank you all for your continued support.