Sitting shiva in the age of Covid-19 has left many mourners feeling cut off and feeling alone in their time of need—the exact opposite of what shiva is supposed to provide. The unfortunate reality is that—with few exceptions (socially distanced outdoor minyans and comforting, for example), mourners have been left to mourn without the benefit of in-person loving and supportive communities.
For many, Zoom has offered some comfort. Some Zoom shivas offer a chance for people to “drop by” during specified hours, to offer comfort to mourners; other zoom shivas provide some structure, akin to a memorial service.
When a beloved, long-time member of the Camp Ramah in New England Tikvah community experienced the loss of her father recently, I wasn’t sure how the community would be able to respond and offer support. What I saw was a truly beautiful outpouring of love and comfort.
Tiki’s father, David, died two weeks ago. While he did not die from Covid, he was in the hospital for quite a while. Due to health and safety concerns, his family was not able to visit. This made the past few months leading up to his death especially sad.
Tiki and her family really could use support and comfort during these difficult times. But just how could the camp community offer that support? Tikvah director Bonnie Schwartz worked with Tiki’s family to plan a meaningful, structured Zoom shiva.
The Tikvah community has known Tiki for so many years. Tiki knows everybody and everybody knows Tiki. Tiki forms strong relationships with people and makes a strong effort to keep those relationships alive on Facebook and in person. As Tiki shared during the Zoom shiva, she even had her bat mitzvah at camp! She recounted how her father somehow managed to locate a kosher bakery between New York and camp and ordered more than 200 kosher rugelach!
After Bonnie welcome and thanked everyone for coming, she explained the format of the evening. Tiki, her mom and sister had provided several family photos, which would be shared on the screen. Tiki and her family would explain where the photos were taken—camp, family vacation, etc.—and the visitors could ask questions as they strived to learn more about her late father.
Bonnie then asked some questions which had been discussed with the family before the Zoom shiva—father’s favorite food, color, sports team, movie, music (Naomi Shemer! He was born in Israel!). They learned how Tiki’s parents met, how he loved reading books about Israel and Judaism, how he loved the Israeli salads his wife made.
What amazed me and warmed my heart is not only that 38 people logged in—and some screens had 2 or 3 people; but that so many of Tiki’s peers from Tikvah—most without parents—just showed up! Several participants were nonverbal or minimally verbal. Tiki felt their love and support—even without words. In addition to friends from the camping and vocational training program were peer buddies, counselors, staff members and administrators- dating back to Tiki’s earliest years in camp.
I think the biggest lesson learned from the Zoom shiva is the importance of showing up. It is so clear that people with various disabilities are very capable of showing love and empathy. Another lesson is that structuring the shiva helped a lot.
Bonnie received many texts and emails afterwards from folks who reported that it was beautiful and that they felt inspired and touched— that it really showcased the power of our community and camp.
And Tiki herself shared with me today: “It made me feel better. My friends are supportive and they love me.” It was a true pleasure to see Tiki with her camp friends and with new friends—from Australia—on a different Zoom one day later—enjoying an International Dance Party.
May Tiki and her family continue to experience the love and support of her Camp Ramah community during this difficult time.