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Update: New protocols for funerals

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Toronto Hebrew Memorial Parks (THMP), which operates the two largest cemeteries in the Greater Toronto Area, has instituted new protocols related to the COVID-19 virus.

In an update issued March 30 for Pardes Shalom cemetery and Pardes Chaim cemetery, both in Vaughan, 14 new directives will be in place for burials and mourners.

In a statement posted on its website, THMP said the gates of its cemeteries will be locked and opened only by staff and only to permit entry for scheduled graveside funerals.

The new protocols are:

• THMP requires that the funeral chapel notifies the cemetery if someone has died from COVID-19 or is strongly suspected to have died from COVID-19. His/her burial will be carried out with clergy, cemetery and funeral chapel staff in attendance. “To be clear,” THMP stresses, “anyone exposed to that deceased person may not attend the graveside service and they will not be permitted on our cemetery grounds. Failure to comply with this directive will result in immediate summonsing of the police as a public and health emergency situation, and criminal charges shall be laid.”

• The only exception to the above will be in the case where a particular family member or representative(s) of the bereaved family presents the funeral chapel and the cemetery administration with a letter signed by an Ontario licensed physician who was involved in the care of the deceased leading up to his/her death, and which certifies that the proposed attendee is not someone who has a quarantine obligation pursuant to the government of Ontario or other legislative COVID-19 protocols.

• The funeral chapel must prepare a deceased person who has died of COVID-19 or is strongly suspected to have died of COVID-19, with the required protocols.

• Graveside funerals for non-COVID-19 related or suspected deaths will be limited to 10 persons including clergy but not including cemetery and funeral chapel staff.

• Individuals attending graveside funerals must remain in their vehicles until they are instructed by cemetery staff and/or funeral chapel staff.

• Individuals at the service must stand at least six feet away from the grave, with a social distance of at least six feet apart.

• Individuals at the service must sign a register and provide contact information should tracing of infection become necessary.

• Funeral directors/assistants shall wait until the casket is lowered, cemetery staff have removed the lowering device, and have created a social distance of at least six feet from the grave before allowing individuals to approach the grave.

• Funeral directors/assistants will direct families to create a social distance at graveside of at least six feet from one another and will use best efforts to remind families during the service. At all times, visitors and funeral chapel staff must always remain at least six feet away from cemetery staff.

• Only two shovels will be provided in order to enable attending clergy and one representative family member to throw dirt onto the casket (please consult with your clergy to determine who that should be according to Halachah). Once the top surface of only the casket is covered with a layer of dirt, attendees will be expected to complete the service and return to their vehicles and leave the cemetery, after which cemetery staff will complete the filling of the grave. There is to be no passing of shovels. THMP expects that the total attendance time within the cemetery grounds for any graveside funeral will be 30 minutes or less.

• All pallbearers must wear rubber/latex disposable gloves, and anyone who handles the cemetery’s shovels must also be wearing such gloves.

• No unveilings or grave visitations will be permitted until further notice, as these are not considered to be essential.

• The cemetery building will be closed to the public, including public washrooms.

• To mitigate risk of transmission, THMP will not be providing any washing cups or water at outdoor hand washing stations at the cemeteries. Visitors should bring their own water for ritual hand washing after their visits.

 The new protocols were devised in consultation with cemetery colleagues and lay leaders, and were reviewed by the rabbinate, THMP executive director Howard Mammon told The CJN via email.

 “There has been a lot of deliberation regarding the protocols given the essential nature of our operations and the Ontario government’s mandates to the bereavement sector,” Mammon noted.

 He added that THMP shares the same protocols with Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park, Beth Tzedec Memorial Park, Mount Sinai Memorial Park and the cemeteries Shaarei Shomayim Congregation operates at Bathurst Lawn, Mount Sinai and on McCowan Road.

On March 20, the Toronto Board of Rabbis issued its guidelines for funerals and shivah observance. They include:

• All funerals should be private and by family invitation only.

• Attendance should be limited to the innermost circle of loved ones only, ideally solely the primary mourners.

• Funerals should be graveside only.

• Anyone experiencing the following should not attend a funeral or public gathering: Fever, cough, sore throat, or other flu-like symptoms; contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19; or symptoms upon return from outside the country evident within two weeks.

• Shivahs should be private and those wishing to offer their condolences should do so by phone or other means of communication.

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