A message from Calgary Chevra Kadisha: The Social Distancing of Grief

by Susan Dvorkin and Harold Lipton 

(AJNews) – It is almost inconceivable to imagine that we are in the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus that most assumed would be a serious but short-term medical issue has evolved into a life changing pandemic that has had a profound impact on many, too often in  cruel and unthinkable ways. We have all been made to adjust and adapt our personal lives.  Many businesses have been lost while others have been forced to pivot in order to remain open.

Many of us have not been able to visit with family and friends, nor gather to celebrate Yom Tovim. Some have lost loved ones and have not been able to mourn in our traditional Jewish ways that help the grieving process. Restrictions on funerals, sitting shiva or saying Kaddish in shul with others have all added to feelings of isolation for mourners.

At the Calgary Chevra Kadisha, we have always been aware of our vital role to the Calgary Jewish community in its time of need and we take pride in the service we provide. At the onset of the pandemic when restrictions were implemented, we adopted various new protocols to protect the safety of our volunteers and mourning families. In addition, we strive to be current with government and AHS restrictions and guidelines as we realize that we must all do what we can to preserve the safety of the community.

The challenge is ongoing at the Chevra Kadisha to continue to provide service  while keeping attendees safe at funerals and unveilings.  The emergence of new variants of the COVID virus that are more contagious and dangerous compounds the risk.  So we remain in compliance with AHS regulations to restrict attendance at funerals and unveilings.  We recognize how difficult it must be for a bereaved family to pick and choose who can attend their loved one’s funeral.  Nonetheless we implore the community to please respect this limitation and refrain from attending funerals and unveilings unless asked by the family.

We also ask that all attendees be masked and gloved.  There is a natural tendency at funerals to gather close together to be able to hear the service and provide comfort.  The usual practice of giving consolation to the bereaved with a hug or handshake must be avoided for now.  It is vital to maintain a safe distance between those who do not normally live together.  And while we desire to personally participate in the mitzvah of burial, we ask that people keep a safe distance until it is your turn to shovel.  While many businesses have placed physical barriers or circles on the ground to aid in social distancing, this is not practical at a cemetery.  Nor do we want to interrupt a service to remind people about maintaining safe distancing.

It is a relief to report that we believe there have been no cases of Covid-19 transmission as a result of funerals, but we must continue to do all we need in order to keep everyone safe.  We encourage everyone to get vaccinated as this will be the best strategy to defeat the pandemic.  Yet we remind the community that vaccinations are not a 100% guarantee against transmission.

So, we implore our community and those that are attending funerals and unveilings… please, please respect the rules of social distancing to the best of your ability. Protect yourselves, the mourners and all in attendance from transmitting this virus to each other so that we can continue to fulfill the mitzvah of burial.

Finally, let us pray for an end to these difficult times and a return to our usual ways of honouring the deceased and comforting the bereaved.

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