Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, grieving the death of loved ones has been disorienting and lonesome because of social distancing orders that keep family and friends separated.
On Tuesday night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn with arrest or summons for defying those orders at the funeral of a rabbi identified as Chaim Mertz. The NYPD assisted at the funeral and helped with crowd control.
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,” the mayor wrote on Twitter. “This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”
But Jewish community activist Isaac Abraham said the Democratic mayor's criticism felt callous, pointing out that large crowds gathered in the tri-state region earlier in the day to view the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds flyover to honor first responders.
“There’s an old saying. 'Don’t rain on our parade,'” Abraham said. “To run back to City Hall and send a tweet – this is kicking your friend when they’re down. Way down.”
Social distancing orders are at odds with Jewish rules about burial and grieving, including the ritual of shiva, or condolence calls. Also, amid the pandemic, some funeral homes cannot bury anyone within 48 hours as required by Jewish law. Only one person is allowed to physically attend the funeral, forcing rabbis and other spiritual leaders to rely on technology or phone calls.
“We’re using Zoom, using Google Hangouts, using Facebook,” Rabbi Steve Leder, who leads one of Los Angeles’ largest synagogues, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, told Forbes. “I have engaged in this kind of media before. But now this crisis has forced me to become much more comfortable and familiar with it…it’s like I just discovered electricity.”
Orthodox Rabbi Zarchi lamented having to send an email offering the first 10 men who responded a spot at the funeral. He was seeking a minyan, the number required for communal worship in Judaism, for the mourner's prayer, or kaddish.
“What this virus has taken away is the most valuable thing we have; that we can support each other,” Jacob Solomon, whose father died, told TIME. “The hug and the touch. Thousands of years of traditions for dealing with death, they’re taken away.”
Larry Arthur Hammond's funeral on April 22 in New Orleans would have drawn 1,000 mourners in the church and second-line parades celebrating the Zulu king mainstay of Mardi Gras royalty. Instead it was a select few.
“Only having 10 family members was so hurting to me because we have such a large, loving family,” Lillian Hammond, his wife, told The Associated Press.
Hammond, 70, died on March 31 and his funeral was delayed because of the large number of COVID-19 deaths.
Many loved ones only contact their family members via FaceTime or through a staff member in a hospital in their final moments, making closure difficult.
“I don’t think I have fully accepted it because I haven’t seen my father," Sharee Hubbard told FOX 66 after her father, a well-known pastor in Flint, Mich., died of coronavirus at the end of March.
But like many believers, Iola Jones, the grieving widow of Pastor Kevelin Jones, 72, looks to her faith. "We have hope in God. We gon' see him again."
Glenn Bower, executive director for the Texas Funeral Commission, told Fox News funeral homes can record and post services to their websites so families can see them.
“I am actually giving the funeral homes ideas about having a camera on the deceased in the casket,” Bower said. “There are online memorial books where people can sign in digitally or in-person, and I also know funeral homes have set up a drive-thru so people can see the deceased.”
Grieving loved ones have come together amid coronavirus, even if they can't physically gather.
“I think we are in the mindset right now of just, we have to do what we have to do to get through this,” Gene Allen, owner of a Texas funeral home and president of the Texas Funeral Directors Association, added. “Hopefully, when we get to the other side of the hill, we can get back to some kind of normality.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.