A few dozen friends of an elderly Jewish woman who died in February were not able to come to her funeral service at the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel on the Upper West Side, but they joined the mourners, virtually, via the Internet. In cities across the United States and Europe, were the first people to take part in a new service: funerals carried live, or archived, on the Internet’s broadcasting, aka “streaming,” technology.
The chapel, a not-for-profit corporation governed by an interdenominational board of directors, has subsequently carried a few other funerals online. “We’re just getting the word out,” says Stephanie Garry, the chapel’s director of community relations.
Online funerals, already offered by the wider community, are the latest sign of the virtual world taking a higher profile in the Jewish world. Another Jewish firm, the Star of David Memorial Chapel in West Babylon, L.I., also offers Webcast funerals, and a new Web site, www.nichum.com, provides family members of the deceased a page where they can enter funeral and shiva details. These Internet services were not part of the official program at the fifth annual bereavement conference sponsored yesterday at Rodeph Sholom by the Plaza Chapel (www.plazajewishcommunitychapel.org), but were sure to be a topic of discussion among the 150 participants, Garry says.
The Webcast funerals, an addition to those carried over the telephone on a toll-free number, have the approval of the chapel’s rabbinic advisers, she says. Most likely to use them — in addition to people in distant locations — are the homebound and hospitalized, who can not leave their premises, and kohanim, who are barred by Jewish law from being in the presence of a corpse.
A mourner’s family receives a code that grants access to the funeral’s Webcast. Garry says some families are initially surprised by the chapel’s offer. “It’s a matter of time — the culture changing.” Eventually, she says, Webcast funerals will be a more accepted practice. “It will happen … as people become more comfortable with computers.”