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Thoughtful Tips for a Meaningful Jewish Funeral Service During the Time of Covid

When we lose a loved one, we are often at a loss for words and for what to do next. This is such a difficult period for the family planning a Jewish funeral service or memorial service, whether in-person or virtual; as well as for all mourners attending. During this most painful time, you may be called upon to make the final arrangements in accordance with Jewish funeral traditions, notify family and friends of the death, write the obituary, write a eulogy and perhaps invite others to speak,

Many Boca Raton cemeteries and mausoleums continue to place restrictions on the number of people who may attend a service in person, to be in line with the CDC (Center for Disease Control)  Covid-19 funeral guidelines on group gatherings. As nearly every funeral or memorial service during the pandemic must now incorporate an online component, the National Funeral Directors Association is offering guidance on how to plan and host a meaningful virtual funeral service.

One of the most important roles all cemeteries, mausoleums and funeral homes have is assisting families at their most difficult moment. That moment has become even more challenging during the time of the pandemic. Due to Covid-19, Jewish funerals and memorial services are faced with many restrictions; but they can be overcome; allowing for Jewish funeral customs to be adhered to.

Families may wonder: “How do we make the virtual funeral service meaningful when there are so many people who will only be able to attend the service via Zoom or Livestream?” To best answer this question, we turned to some experts in handling Jewish funerals in the Palm Beach County, Florida area.

The Virtual Funeral Service

The Beth El Mausoleum in Boca Raton, Florida  and Mausoleum Director, Mike Sirowitz along with the Temple Beth El of Boca Raton clergy are all available to help families navigate this path to ensure that their loved one has a meaningful funeral service or memorial service. And for those who cannot attend in person, they can still feel as though they are an important part of the day even if they live at a distance away.

What does it look like to express love and care when you can’t be in the same room, give a hug, or take someone’s hand? How can we feel close? What options are there for sharing memories, storytelling, and grieving together?

Using a computer, tablet or mobile phone in real-time from the comfort of their home, the virtual funeral is brought to the mourner. Thanks to modern technology, a mourner who is miles away from Boca Raton can present a eulogy as though he or she is there in person. It’s best to use a desktop or laptop computer if you are going to be speaking, so that the family and other participants can have the best view and feel as though you are in the room with them. Have your words prepared and practiced, and try to look into the camera on the laptop or desktop.

The Beth El Mausoleum has some great suggestions to assist those who have questions about how to plan a meaningful virtual funeral or memorial service.

Jewish Virtual Funeral Service Tips

QWhat should be included in a eulogy, especially one delivered online?

A:  The best eulogies are brief personal stories or anecdotal memories of the deceased including personality traits, favorite activities or sayings and lessons taught.  If multiple people will be speaking, try to avoid a chronological listing of the person’s life as they may be repetitive.

QWho can set up a Zoom or Livestream funeral service and ensure that it runs smoothly?

A: While anyone with a Zoom account can create a Zoom meeting, it is advisable for the funeral director or clergy to set up the Zoom meeting. The Beth El Mausoleum Director and staff will handle this as well as many other aspects of the service.  A Zoom link will be provided which can be shared with family and friends. During the virtual funeral or memorial service, the streaming content will be managed and monitored to ensure it is a high-quality “production.”

Q: What are the differences between a Livestream funeral service vs a Zoom funeral service?

A: Although there is more to it, the best way to answer this is that Livestream is only one-way while Zoom is two-way communication.  When Livestreamed, anyone with the link can watch the service however they will see only what is broadcast from the service.   Zoom allows users to not only watch the service but also participate.  They can speak and be both seen and heard by all others including those physically present at the service.

Q: Can the virtual service be recorded and saved for viewing again or shared with others?

A:  Yes, here at the Beth El Mausoleum, we can provide a recording of the Livestream or Zoom funeral service.

Q: Can a eulogy be pre-recorded and sent in to be streamed on Zoom or the Livestream service for anyone who is too emotional to speak at the live service online?

A:  Yes, a pre-recorded eulogy is possible. For funerals at the Beth El Mausoleum, the recording must be received at least 48 hours in advance to ensure compatibility with our systems.

Q: Can family or friends send in old photos for a slide show presentation during the virtual funeral service?

A: Some families like to compose photo montages that they can share to help in remembering their loved one.  Photo montages can be beautiful ways of capturing and sharing the life of your loved one. The Beth El Mausoleum cannot collect the photos and create the slideshow, however a family member may provide the photos (preferably in a PowerPoint presentation) at least 48 hours in advance. The montage should be kept short – no more than three to four minutes in length total.

QHow can Zoom be used for a virtual-memorial book?

A:  The chat feature on Zoom can be used for people to type in some favorite memories, such as how they are related to the deceased or how they met the deceased, include short blurbs about stories they recall , favorite things they liked or loved about the deceased, etc. We will provide a chat log along with the video recording of the service.

Meaningful Jewish Funeral Tips from the Perspective of the Clergy

Temple Beth El of Boca Raton’s Senior Rabbi Daniel Levin shared some additional thoughts about making a funeral or memorial service meaningful.

Many people wonder about the best practices for writing and delivering a Jewish eulogy, whether for a virtual service or an in-person service, especially if they have never done so before.

Rabbi Levin recommends, “When people speak at a funeral service, it’s generally much more emotional than you expect it to be. I always encourage people to write out what they want to say word-for-word.  That allows the speaker to compose their thoughts in advance, and to share those thoughts after with people who may not be able to watch the service in real time. I generally think 3-5 minutes is an appropriate length of time to speak, but sometimes immediate family have more they want to share. I suggest a maximum of five different speakers. Especially for those watching on the Internet, a longer service is difficult to watch.”

Rabbi Levin also has some important suggestions for how to attend a Zoom virtual Jewish funeral service.

 “If you are attending a service from home on Zoom, I think the best approach is to act as if you are participating in person. I encourage people to dress appropriately for a funeral service, knowing that the family and other mourners will see how you are dressed. Try to ensure that the background behind where you are seating is free from distractions or embarrassing materials. Please sit still and pay attention – it can be disconcerting to the family or other mourners to see someone participating who is distracted or multi-tasking. Try not to move your computer, tablet or phone, as it can be very distracting to see a shaking image or to see someone walking through their home. If you cannot keep the camera still or you must move your seat, turn off the video control so other viewers and the family will not be distracted.  Be sure always to mute yourself so you do not interrupt the service.”

When asked about music and singing during a Zoom Jewish funeral service, Rabbi Levin said, “Zoom does not lend itself to singing, and the musical quality through the internet can be difficult. Zoom is designed to only allow one voice to be heard at a time, so only a solo voice can be accommodated.  If a loved one has significant musical talent, it can be nice to include them in the service, but usually one musical number is enough.”

With this helpful information in mind, we hope this provides a means of easing the burden a bit for those who are faced with a virtual funeral service or a smaller in-person service during the pandemic. Even after the pandemic, when funerals may once again be held in person, for those who cannot attend, the virtual service will likely remain a staple in the funeral industry, and these tips will remain relevant.

When the time comes that you need the Beth El Mausoleum Boca Raton, Florida, whether for pre-need planning or at-need services, we offer virtual pre-need planning as well as in-person tours, please contact Mausoleum Director, Mike Sirowitz who will guide you with compassion and understanding through every step of the way, so that the Jewish funeral service you plan is very meaningful to you and yours.