On one recent Saturday night, mortuary director Moe Goldsman got his first call at 10 p.m., his second at 12:30 a.m., and his third at 1:45 a.m. He worked through the night and went to sleep at dawn.
With coronavirus numbers skyrocketing in Southern California since Thanksgiving, Goldsmans Sholom Mortuary is struggling to keep pace with the mounting death toll. The mortuarys next availability is three weeks from now, and a cemetery across the street has paused scheduling new burials unless the family has prepaid arrangements.
A wait of several days to bury the deceased is nearly universal in Los Angeles right now, with some waiting weeks to bury their loved ones. Refrigerated storage units are in such high demand, Goldsman said, that the county coroner had called around at mortuaries looking for extra space.
The backlogged mortuaries underscore a grim new reality in the Los Angeles Jewish community: the virus that seemed to pass over it in the spring and summer months has begun to deliver major losses, even as other groups suffer far worse so far.
Someone is dying of COVID-19 nearly every eight minutes in Los Angeles County, and the county surpassed its one millionth case Jan. 17. An employee of Hillside Memorial Park, one of three major Jewish cemeteries serving the Los Angeles area, said Jan. 16 that the next funeral availability was seven days away. The following day California surpassed New York as the state with the most deaths in the pandemic.
So bodies and the broken families who cannot begin shiva until they bury them have to wait.
Yossi Manela, director of Chevra Kadisha Mortuary, also in Los Angeles, said the earliest available burial date at one cemetery was Jan. 25 for a person who died Jan. 14. And the only option for that time slot was direct burial, meaning no family could be present.
Until now, the novel coronavirus had been unable to keep prayer services canceled or Jewish schools closed. But the scale of the ongoing tragedy has finally overwhelmed the professionals who snap into action when a Jewish person dies. And with funeral homes overwhelmed and cemeteries booked for days in advance, the pandemic is steamrolling Jewish burial traditions as sacred as they are age- old.......
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There's so much misery, so much bad news -- but this is too heartbreaking. All jewish 'refrigerators' full in LA -- and a million Covid dead there? The Sorrow And The Pity!
Oh no. Not a dearth of Jewish iceboxes -- not on Jan. 20, 2021 with everything else going on. Aïee, what is going to become of us?