A funeral in unprecedented times

We are living in unprecedented times, the elderly people I speak to say it is reminiscent of war time. Most of us were not born then so the comparison is only imaginary.

Eerie photos are circulating of usually bustling streets now completely deserted. People don’t know how the next government announcement will change their lives, or for how long.

But nothing is as eerie as a funeral with no one in attendance. Family members are in quarantine and friends must stay away. I am returning from officiating at the UK’s first Jewish-religious funeral from the deathly virus at Bushey United Synagogue Cemetery; sadly, it will not be the last. Brian had no children and his closest relatives are in isolation. There are new halachic and technical guidelines for all burial societies.

We live in unprecedented times. The speed and frequency of social media postings, news and clips continue to keep us preoccupied. But as we stay home more and more, and as we have more and more time on our hands, certainly it is an opportunity to go on a personal journey as well.

For some, like Brian, life has changed forever, not by choice. Others, have the chance to change their lives forever, for the better. Here are some ideas.

With no boss expecting you at work, no football or movies or shopping centres, Shabbat becomes much easier to observe. Fewer restaurant outings means we are eating at home more. What a great time to keep Kosher. We can pray in the morning and at night, don Tefilin, make online Tzedaka donations, and study more Torah.

Passover is nearly here. We will all be home, so preparing correctly and planning for a liberating Seder is now a wonderful preoccupation.

We live in unprecedented times with so many online resources and guides to teach and inspire you, without leaving your home.

Singing and clapping from balconies to lift spirits and show gratitude, and in one instance entertain a wedding have shown how well we adapt. Our doctors, nurses and NHS staff on the front lines have yet again shown us true heroism and unwavering care while volunteers are phoning around, delivering basics and showing concern for neighbours they don’t know. All this remind us that humanity’s spirit and resolve will ultimately fight off this adversity too.

Some are asking: is it a sign? Now we see we must rely on G-d only. Is there a message? G-d is communicating something to us.

Such hypothetical approaches are naive at best, sacrilegious at worse. We do not need to contemplate G-d’s involvement and reasoning in His world on His behalf. But we do need to remember what the mystics taught us as paramount to our belief in G-d – Hashgacha Peratis, G-d is intimately involved in our daily lives and that of all of His creations.

This applies before and after we have a vaccine for Covid-19; this applies to old and new diseases and natural calamities alike. This applies at happy occasions and sad occasions.

As the sun emerged from behind the clouds, three people arrived at the burial grounds to show their respect for Brian. We stood in the prayer hall and read the Psalms. Nigel from the British Friends of Hebrew University, where Brian had donated to fund heart research after his wife Ruby passed away. Peter had driven from Chudley, Devon. He had worked all his life for Brian. “I could never work for anyone else…he was like a parent to me, he made me who I am”.

Everything in this world is G-dly but usually we are preoccupied with doing. Now some have a chance to stop and reflect about this unprecedented time that we live in. And like Brian did through charity and care for others, we can all make changes by choice that will affect us and those around us forever. For the better. L’chaim to good health.