Of all the changes in routine brought on by the current pandemic, one of the most jarring is the way we do funerals. Instead of what is often a large contingent of well-wishers crowded into a funeral chapel, we have graveside funerals usually limited to immediate family, with others participating by Zoom. The shiva mourning period that follows is conducted mainly by telephone — not unheard of before the pandemic, but previously usually limited to those living too far away to make in-person shiva visits.
Strange as this new funeral process always seems, it was particularly disconcerting for me to participate by Zoom in the funeral of my mother-in-law, Minya Yudenfriend, who passed away this week three days shy of her 93 birthday. In part that’s because her funeral is one I would definitely have wanted to attend if the pandemic and my own health had permitted, but it’s because my most vivid memories of Minya involve crowds. There were the Thanksgiving dinners she used to host (until recent years when her youngest daughter took over).There were the theater parties she used to give in New York to celebrate her birthday with her extended family. There were the various parties for birthdays or other occasions. As all the eulogies at her funeral acknowledged, she loved being with a lot of family and friends
Family was central to Minya. She tried to reach out and include her extended family in all aspects of her life, and she was expansive in her definition. I know this well. My wife Lisa, the third of her four daughters, passed away at age 35, yet my children and I — and more recently my daughter-in-law and grandchildren — were always included as part of her family. Though distance (she lived all her live in Philadelphia.) and more recently the pandemic and my own health issues limited our face-to-face contact, she called frequently, just to check up on us.
Her funeral would have been a sad occasion in any event, for she was a person always full of life, enthusiasm and curiosity. But somehow the pandemic magnified the sadness. She should have had a crowd of friends, family and the Har Zion synagogue community of which she and my father-in-law were so active a part. Still, in this new world-by-Zoom that we’re all inhabiting, there is a somewhat compensating advantage: The geographical reach of her family circle has greatly expanded over the years, so her Zoom funeral included relatives and friends who would not otherwise have been able to attend. She was eulogized by the oldest and youngest of her 14 grandchildren, both of whom spoke via Zoom, and by her oldest daughter, as well as the synagogue’s rabbi. Each speaker shared different stories, which is no surprise. Everyone who knew Minya will cherish different memories, for she related to each friend and family member differently.
May Minya bat Tzvi Yisrael’s memory be a blessing to all who knew her. May her family find comfort for their loss among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem., and may we all soon see the end of this pandemic and a return to what used to pass for normal life.