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A Mother Dies, and the World of Mourning Changes
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A Mother Dies, and the World of Mourning Changes

Social distancing at the funeral was only the beginning.

Sandee is the arts and culture editor at the Jewish Week.

Eli Spielman with his mother Pearl.
Eli Spielman with his mother Pearl.

For Eli Spielman, who recently concluded observing the shloshim, or 30-day mourning period, after his mother’s death, the rhythms of life have changed drastically.

His mother, Pearl Spielman, lived in Atlanta and died there on March 13. Before moving down south, she spent many years on Long Island, where her late husband, Rabbi Leon Spielman, led the Beth Sholom Center of Amityville and the Massapequas. Eli Spielman, an Emmy Award-winning sportswriter for CBS Sports and a marketing consultant, flew to Atlanta the week before she died. He was able to spend a week with her at the hospital and was in what he describes as a bubble, shielded from the news of the world.

“It turns out that the world had stopped, or was in the process of stopping,” he says. Suddenly, the options about burial were very different. They flew back to New York and had a graveside funeral at Beth Moses in West Babylon, L.I., conducted by Spielman and his brother Effie. As rabbi’s sons, they knew what to do. The 15 or so attendees, including their grown children and a few family friends stood apart, even when picking up the shovels that the gravediggers had left.

“My experience is already relatively historic, with the rate that events have changed and accelerated over these last few weeks.” He realizes that had it happened a week later, they would not have been able to spend time in the hospital, might not have been able to transport the body, and would have been far more rushed at the cemetery. These days, people have to bring their own shovels to the cemetery if they want to help bury the person, as is a custom for many.

The family did not have a public shiva. “It was just us and a platter of food from Ma’adan,” he says, referring to a kosher shop in Teaneck, N.J., where he lives. At the beginning of the week, they were unable to say Kaddish, but by the end of the week, the Rabbinical Assembly released a statement that some of its members allowed the Kaddish to be said, in a virtual minyan via electronics, like Zoom, in a crisis situation like this one.

For him, that was a game changer, as he was then able to find minyanim around the country that fit his late-night working schedule. He chose not to use Zoom for shiva visits, and says that, in spite of the very best intentions, some of these new modes don’t always have the mourner’s emotional needs in mind. And it seemed that at a time when mirrors are covered, the idea of seeing one’s image onscreen did not seem appropriate. Instead he found comfort in phone calls, many emails and notes.

“You really want to embrace somebody. That was the toughest part, for me.

When the shiva was over, he again felt a kind of time warp, as there was no place to go, no ordinary life to return to. Judaism has rituals for crossing boundaries, but the boundaries were blurred.

“That’s what is difficult. I can’t tell the difference between the shiva and the shloshim.”

“We were at the beginning of it, and in retrospect we were fortunate. What can I say? Life goes on and death goes on.”

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