Rudy Thomas

All three local Jewish funeral homes have united in suggesting that funeral services be limited to immediate family only.

The coronavirus has upset Jewish life cycle plans since it arrived in Michigan March 11. Bar and bat mitzvahs as well as weddings — and accompanying parties — have been postponed. But, in Judaism, funerals are not delayed. A love one should be buried as soon as possible.

Keeping to that tradition but operating as safely as possible in these days of the coronavirus, all three local Jewish funeral homes have united in suggesting that funeral services in a chapel or graveside be limited to the immediate family only. Smaller gatherings mean less chance of spreading the virus; this notion also complies with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s statewide safety guidelines for restricting large gatherings.

“The theme is to be responsible and safe,” said David Techner, funeral director at Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield. After listening to Dr. Adam Rosh, an ER doctor, talk on the phone March 12 about the coronavirus to the Michigan Board of Rabbis, Techner and funeral directors from Dorfman Chapel in Farmington Hills and Hebrew Memorial Chapel in Southfield discussed the situation together.

Each funeral home’s website now carries a similar message of limiting funerals to immediate family. All three also direct mourners to live-stream services or to watch a video later.   

“We are trying to make smart decisions and take care of a family with respect and compassion, but there will be limitations in order to keep the community safe,” said Techner, who added that he believes some families will opt out of shivahs because of the potential danger, especially to older adults. He thinks they may meet for a meal at a restaurant after burial rather than having shivah at a home.

The funeral homes are providing hand sanitizers for mourners. And, in at least one instance, Techner said a family requested no hugging but “elbow bumps.” Jonathan Dorfman of Dorfman Chapel said some synagogues are keeping their volunteers from leading shivah services for health reasons.

“This is a learning a curve for all of us,” Dorfman said. “It’s a family’s choice, but they are trying to limit things, too. Everyone understands it’s a different day, and we’re trying to deal with it. The goal is all about health and safety for the community.”

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