Our tradition demands that we mourn together. Indeed, some of our most cherished prayers require a minyan, a group of at least ten adult Jews gathered together. At the same time, the wisdom of our tradition requires that in times of danger to our health, that even our most strict laws are bent or even broken.

Pekuach Nefesh, the saving of a life, defines every other decision we make as Jews. As a result, until the time comes when we are able to once again gather together, the Reform movement has taken the extraordinary action of holding funerals remotely with an officiant at the grave site and mourners at home.

We know there is no way to have a virtual experience adequately fill our most essential needs of gathering with others to mourn those that we have loved and lost. At Sinai, we are striving to bring as much meaning and dignity given our limitations. The following program explains as plainly as possible how we are conducting zoom funerals so that you know what to expect and can prepare for the necessary differences from what normally happens at a funeral.

  • Zoom meetings will be opened by a remote administrator about 15 minutes before the listed time of burial. This allows, if wished, the opportunity for mourners to be comforted and to “see” those that have gathered in this sacred space.
  • At the time of the burial, after the central mourners have indicated that all those that they are expecting have joined the zoom call, all microphones will be muted except for the Rabbi/Officiant. Please note that although we have taken steps to mitigate wind noise, this has been a constant challenge for remote funerals. It is important that all participants remain on mute during the service to allow that the officiant can be heard.
  • Participants online, however, are encouraged to pray along with the liturgy as they feel comfortable. 
  • After an introductory Psalm, funerals will begin with the attached “Opening Liturgy” a beautiful piece of liturgy written for the uniqueness of this time by Rabbi Paul Freedman.
  • The Service continues with the attached “Funeral Service” including a Hesped/Eulogy, weather permitting, and then a selection of readings.
  • The coffin is lowered.
  • Each mourner that wishes, should submit his or her name to the officiant before the burial. The officiant, after offering his/her earth upon the coffin, will do the same on behalf of any that wishes, calling out the name of each to acknowledge their part in fulfilling the mitzvah of burial.
  • At this point the camera will be moved off of the grave site so that the rest of the plot can be filled with earth, and the officiant recites “El Male Rachamim.”
  • If the family is comfortable reciting the Mourners’ Kaddish remotely, please let the rabbi know which family member wishes to lead Kaddish. Due to the latency of Zoom, it is best if only one microphone is allowed to be unmuted. The Zoom administrator will unmute the microphone of the designated person, after which they will again be muted and the rabbi will return with “Oseh Shalom.”  (Please note that you should do what is comfortable here. Within Jewish Law, there are provisions for recognizing that those that “see each other through a window” can be considered part of a minyan for the sake of Kaddish. It is incredibly important that, given the circumstances, you feel free to honour your loved ones as you need. Please contact Rabbi Strasko if you wish to discuss this further.)
  • The officiant will conclude the service with Oseh Shalom, which is also the ending of the Mourner’s Kaddish.
  • After the service has ended, the zoom session will remain active for 15-30 minutes in order to allow the paying of respects. Many that have done this have found this to be cathartic, and having a moment to reflect is a beautiful expression of “eternal life.” We allow the memories of those that we have lost to be magnified as we speak of them.

Blessings, and may you be comforted from the eternal Source of comfort.

Rabbi Paul Moses Strasko