Our incredibly difficult decision to restrict funeral attendance

Edgwarebury Cemetery

25 March 2020

By the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors

Our hearts are broken by the decision which, by now, you may have read or heard.

Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism have taken an incredibly difficult decision to restrict the physical attendance at all funerals to solely the rabbi or cantor. This means that no family members will be able to attend in person. We are working hard to put in place the means by which anyone who wishes to join a service online will be able to participate.

We are all navigating a world that is changing rapidly and we are adapting as quickly as possible. As Liberal Jews this is something that has been the hallmark of our Movement, now more than ever this is our duty and responsibility.

At the heart of everything we have done as a community has been the ethic of ensuring that the idea of ‘al tifros min-hatzibur’ – do not separate yourself from the community (Pirkei Avot 2:4) – is upheld. Even whilst the community is physically dispersed we will do all we can to ensure that our community is not separated from one another. Now, more than ever, supporting each other in times of grief, escorting the dead and comforting the mourners is a necessity and we will find ways to make it possible through technology.

Funerals will be conducted with dignity and k’vod hamet (honour to the deceased) and your rabbis will be doing everything possible to ensure you are able to feel connected at a devastating time of loss.

These are exceptional times for our world and it is important that we uphold the value of pikuach nefesh (saving a life). In taking this action we are seeking to ensure that the health and the lives of you, your families, your clergy, the cemetery staff, the funeral directors are all protected to the best of our abilities.

The Covid-19 Virus crisis is putting a strain on all of our essential services and we must ensure that we all recognise that we are individually responsible for doing everything we can to reduce the strain and protect our vital services. It is in these times that we must lead by example.

We know that this will be terribly painful for you and we can only express our profound gratitude for your support in upholding this decision, a decision which we hope will contribute to saving lives, minimising strain on the NHS and other essential services, whilst ensuring that the greatest mitzvah of all, burying the dead, is done in a way that honours the lives of loved ones.

In the Psalms we are told that the Eternal One is close to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:19), transcending space and time, so we know that God is with us wherever we are and even when feeling crushed of spirit.

The Rabbis and Cantors of Liberal Judaism are always on hand to support you and please be in touch if you would like some pastoral support – by emailing Rabbi Aaron Goldstein (a.goldstein@liberaljudaism.org) or Rabbi Charley Baginsky (c.baginsky@liberaljudaism.org).

 

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