The Rabbinical Alliance of America-Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American Orthodox Rabbis announces proclamation appreciating Chevra Kadisha heroic efforts during the Covid Pandemic.
The Chevra Kadisha, literally the “sacred fellowship” is the volunteer group that performs the final rites and burial preparations for the Jewish deceased. According to Jewish tradition, Jewish burial is considered a sacred duty and a great kindness, and it is an honor to be included in this group of dedicated volunteers.
At this exceptionally challenging juncture in history when countless members of Klal Yisrael have succumbed to the deadly coronavirus in the New York/New Jersey areas and beyond, we can only pause and remember their unique legacies.
Because the deaths of these precious neshomas came at a time when traditional levayas and shivas were strictly prohibited by the authorities due to public health concerns, we must stop and express our hakaras hatov to those who were directly involved in ensuring that the deceased received a proper burial, al pi halacha-in accordance with Jewish law and tradition.
When Chazal tell us that preparing a meis for petira and attending a levaya is a "Chesed Shel Emes" we must be cognizant of the fact that if it were not for the Chevra Kadisha whose tasks are done with their entire heart, we would not have had proper burials for the voluminous amount of people who were tragically niftar-passed away as a result of the COVID-19 virus.
"The attributes of grace, benevolence and enormous kindness can be found in all the men and women in the Chevra Kadisha who spent their days and nights preparing those who died for burial," declared Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America.
He added that, "In this age of Corona when too many people passed away in such a short period of time, the members of the Chevra Kadisha worked around the clock in performing taharas and provided the niftar and nifteres, the last and highest respect as they prepared them for their final destination on this earth."
Rabbi Katz, Menahel of the Rabbinical Alliance of America said "The members of the Chevra Kadisha do our community a tremendous and invaluable service and give of their time voluntarily. They expect absolutely nothing in return. What is so incredibly impressive about them is that when a niftar arrives at a funeral home, the Chevra Kadisha does not distinguish between a great rabbi, an odom gadol, a prominent leader in our community and that of a pushete yid that passed away. They perform the identical holy work on each of them; irrespective of their status."
Because the death of a loved one is a very sensitive time for children, siblings, parents and other relatives, the Chevra Kadisha are experienced in dealing in a very soft way to help out the family and comply with their requests. Simultaneously, these members of the Chevra Kadisha are scrupulous in adhering to halacha as they wash, dress & daven with remarkable kavanah in preparation for the person to be buried.
In the months of March and April of this year, the job of the Chevra Kadisha was exponentially expanded due to the amount of taharas that they were performing daily. On a regular Sunday, ten funerals is much more than average, however during the dreaded pandemic, over 50 bodies were brought in on a daily basis to funeral chapels in the New York/New Jersey area. The undertakers from the Chevra Kadisha were literally overwhelmed and each person worked triple shifts if not more. They tragically witnessed a new picture of devastation and summoned up the emotional and physical strength to perform these taharas in a timely fashion and with the greatest of care.
Funeral home directors found themselves in a panic as there were not enough Chevra Kadisha members to perform taharas on the exceptionally high number of those who passed away.
Moreover, the Chevra Kadisha where given new protocols, rules, safety regulations and requirements during this COVID-19 era. Special gloves, gowns, and face masks were required so the undertakers would not become infected and contract the disease from the deceased person.
Other people from far and wide also stepped up to the plate and donated their time by coming to the funeral homes with minivans and taking the niftarim to the cemetery for burial.
Rabbi Mirocznik took note of some very special people from the RAA/Igud HaRabbonim who selflessly and tirelessly devoted their time to ensuring that those who died were given proper burial rites.
"I want to express our profound gratitude to our dear member Rabbi Matis Melnicke son of HaRav Meir Melnicke. He is not only a member of the Chevra Kadisha but also volunteers his time to the Bikur Cholim. During this pandemic, he also volunteered to work with the outstanding organization known as Chesed Shel Emes which is directed by Rabbi Mendel Rosenberg; a true tzaddik gamor, " said Rabbi Mirocznik.
He added, "Rabbi Matis not only worked around the clock but he paid for food for the undertakers who also worked around the clock and made sure that they had enough to eat so they could muster up the strength to perform their holy work."
One of the funeral directors who wished to remain anonymous said, "I hadn't eaten for hours, I had a headache and I felt so weak. It was Rabbi Matis who came to the rescue and made sure that I ate and drank and got back to my strength."
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, presidium chairman of the Rabbinical Alliance of America added, "Klal Yisroel owes a great deal of gratitude to the intrepid members of the Chevra Kadisha. Each and every one of them worked L'Shem Shamayim. If not for them, we could have witnessed a nightmarish scenario of niftarim waiting days to be buried, May Hashem bless each one of these members with an abundance of brochos, hatzlacha, and may they be gezunt until 120."