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Funerals and Shivas as New York Reopens

Over the past few months, people have become accustomed to carrying out rituals using virtual sources. Funerals have been attended via video conferencing and mourners were consoled during online shivas. Although traditions are observed, anything carried out digitally lacks the long-established personal feel. Now that restrictions are being adjusted to ease back into normalcy, what will funerals and shivas start to look like?

State mandated guidelines will still be in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of mourners, staff, and the general public, but things will continue to change progressively. Gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted with indoor services resuming. Social distancing protocols like standing 6 feet apart from non-immediate family members and wearing masks if required to be less than 6 feett apart will still be in place, however, this is a major change for mourners who have had very limited attendees and outdoor services to protect against the spread.

It is suggested to continue taking precautions pertaining to attendance. Anyone outside of the numbers that are acceptable, feeling ill, believed to have been exposed to Covid-19, or medically fragile should stay home and participate using technology. Large gatherings at the burial should be avoided at this time. If desired or necessary, additional guests can attend and observe from inside their vehicles. Remember that for anyone who cannot come to the funeral, there is always the possibility of honoring the deceased at the unveiling next year. When traveling between memorial chapels and cemeteries, members of different families should be in separate cars or limousines. Distancing should continue at the burial site.

Limiting contact and hygiene measures like avoiding hugging and handshaking, rigorous hand washing and disinfecting is recommended when participating in or holding shiva. Shiva has a bit more flexibility now, since with 7 days, people can comfort the family in increments on different days and at staggered times. Social distancing and mask-wearing should still be carried out. It is up to the family hosting to decide if they feel comfortable with having guests in their home. Continue to use technology to stream and invite participants to share stories and memories of the decedent. Originally, minyans of 10 connected by zoom were permitted by some rabbis, but with gatherings expanded, it will be possible to meet an in-person quorum.

Surrounding yourself with family and friends is vital to healing and the grief process. While we all need to adhere to requirements set forth to protect us, eventually the social distancing rules that are keeping mourners apart will become more and more relaxed. In time, we will see less technology and more togetherness.