In the digital age, people are using the new media every day to connect with each other — and with their deceased.
That happened again on Jan. 8 when mourners of Fayth (Aronson) Berkowitz were able to see her funeral and its procession via a webcast. Hillel Academy held the funeral and posted the video link to its social media sites.
The intent was to bring the community together — no matter where they live.
Internet use during funerals poses many questions for rabbis and mourners, according to Sharon Brody, funeral director at Ralph Schugar Funeral Chapel.
“What a family wants to happen,” Brody said, “it’s my responsibility to make it happen.”
There is no restriction on technology at a service held at Schugar, Brody said. In fact, the funeral home offers a videography package that includes professional lighting, speakers and cameras. Schugar also cooperates in producing DVDs and has people from out of state or overseas watch services through live streaming or Skype.
“It’s very helpful, or the family wouldn’t be connected,” Brody said. Technology, in these instances, “helps people feel connected to the family and heals with grieving.”
Recently, Schugar streamed a funeral to relatives in Israel, Brody said. “It worked, and it worked beautifully.”
Technology can be useful, particularly with the Jewish tradition of honoring the deceased in a time period under 24 hours, or “as soon as possible” said Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of Shaara Torah Congregation.
According to Wasserman, travel time to a funeral, in today’s world, should take no more than 24 hours, and he emphasized there’s still no substitute for being there.
“We want to personally connect to people,” he said, “and technology in no way cancels out the need to be there.”
Still, he lauded live streaming for offering the ability to share the service with loved ones who can’t be present.
“It gives an added dimension,” he said. “For years, people have called in by phone to listen to funerals; I’m very glad that we have the tool to find new uses to bring people together.”
So far, he has not had any backlash from his use of technology during funerals.
“It’s not a big deal to me,” the rabbi said. “Connecting people is always a good thing.”
Live streaming should have boundaries, though, according to Brody.
For example, while Jewish tradition discourages opening the casket, some families still wish to see their loved ones privately one last time for a couple of minutes.
For these instances, Brody draws the line on technology. “There would never be an opportunity to film an open casket,” she said.
While rabbis are still trying to figure out what uses of technology are acceptable, said Daniel Isard, master of forensic science and founder of The Foresight Companies, which provides business consulting services to funeral homes nationwide, said consumers have their own ideas as to how to use it.
“Funeral services are the most personal thing in a person’s life,” he said, “and consumers want to have control over their service.”
Older mourners are more likely to follow tradition and halachah, he noted, while younger mourners, such as Generation X and Millennials, tend to be more willing to forego it.
“Sometimes we have to be more inclusive,” Isard said. “You have to determine who the funeral is for — the dead or the living.”
He pointed out recent news stories that focused on selfies — a self-taken digital photograph — at a funeral. For some people, Isard said, taking the last selfie with their loved ones, or at the actual funeral service, is the latest trend in memorializing.
As the younger generations take over their family’s responsibilities for funeral planning, technology could play an even larger role, Isard said.
Still, he said a funeral is difficult to plan online. He cited statistics that include only one out of every 3,000 visitors to a funeral home relates to preplanning a funeral.
It’s the personal outreach that seals the deal for many family members hoping to offer a respectable goodbye.
“The number one experience for funeral directors is the hug [they receive] at the graveside,” Isard said.
(Bee Schindler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)