Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl has honoured members of the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society) organisations for their efforts during the Covid pandemic, describing them as “unsung heroes”.
At a special event in Parliament on Thursday, marking three years since the announcement of the first lockdown measures for the UK, representatives from a number of different Chevra Kadisha organisations were awarded commemorative plaques to mark their selfless work during the pandemic, when hundreds of Jews around the country succumbed to Covid in a first wave in which the Jewish community were disproportionately affected.
Marie described how “Chevra Kadisha groups – burial societies of every denomination – have long been unsung heroes of our community. These groups are made up of volunteers, who selflessly put in significant time and effort to ensuring that the our community’s deceased are buried with dignity and sensitivity, according to Jewish law.”
She told the room that: “Within the first two months of the pandemic, more than 400 members of the Jewish community had died from Covid. More than 100 of those people died on one particularly terrible week in mid-April. The pressure this put on our burial societies was enormous. Individuals – many of them in this room – had already given of their own time for many years with no expectation of reward. Now, however, they were having to prepare far more bodies for burial in a far shorter time period – and having to do so when there was no full understanding of the nature of Covid transmission and the risks involved. Their efforts during this period were nothing short of heroic, and it is right and fitting that they should be honoured today.”
Mike Freer, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and MP for Finchley and Golders Green, who is also Minister for Death Management, told the assembled that “The pandemic was uncharted waters for the country; we didn’t know how it would play out. And so, the fact that so many of you put yourselves at risk to prepare the bodies for burial without knowing the impact on your own lives and health is a real testament to the selfless dedication that you have provided.
“On top of that, there was a higher than average death rate, which put on considerably more pressure. The work that you have done to provide comfort in a most distressing time really is appreciated.”
The Chevra Kadisha organisations honoured included the United Synagogue Burial Society, the Adas Yisroel Burial Society, the Federation of Synagogues Burial Society, North West London Chevra Kadisha, the S&P Sephardi Community Burial Society, the Joint Jewish Burial Society the Liberal Judaism Funeral Scheme, the Glasgow Hebrew Burial Society, the Gateshead Kehillah Chevra Kadisha and burial representatives from the Manchester Kehillah.
The event, sponsored by Charlotte Nicholls MP, was attended by more than 50 Chevra Kadisha representatives from around the country, as well as MP and peers.
During the pandemic, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, with the help of many of the organisations present at the ceremony, kept extensive records of the number of members of the Jewish community to have died from Covid-19. More than 1,000 members of the UK Jewish community died from Coronavirus.
Image credit: Gary Perlmutter
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