Sinai Memorial Chapel's main office on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)
Sinai Memorial Chapel's main office on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. (Photo/Gabriel Greschler)

Sinai Memorial says ‘no’ to indoor funerals as S.F. eases restrictions

As part of a phased citywide reopening, San Francisco announced on Sept. 1 that indoor funerals will now be permitted with up to 12 attendees. But Sinai Memorial Chapel has decided to continue limiting mourners to outdoor graveside services only, said executive director Sam Salkin.

The number of people allowed at graveside services, all with masks and social distancing required, varies from county to county.

In San Mateo County, up to 50 people are permitted at graveside services. In Contra Costa County, up to 100 attendees are allowed. And in Los Angeles County, there is no set limit as long as social distancing can be maintained.

Sinai has an on-site chapel in San Francisco, operates three cemeteries and handles burials at others. It is the only Jewish funeral home between Los Angeles and Seattle.

Salkin said Sinai is being “abundantly cautious” in its decision not to follow San Francisco’s reopening guidance. Funerals are particularly challenging environments in which to enforce physical distancing, he said.

“Physical distancing and funerals are in some ways oxymoronic,” Salkin said. “[People] hug, they wail, they want to greet each other.”

However, Salkin did say that Sinai is in the process of “considering making changes” to its policies, though he did not provide specifics or a timeline.

“We don’t want funerals to lead to more funerals,” said Salkin.

Susan Solomon, who oversees Hills of Eternity, Home of Peace and Salem Memorial Park in Colma, said that the cemetery chapels remain closed. However, following graveside services, attendees are allowed entry into on-site mausoleums two at a time.

Indoor funerals have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks. In Minnesota, one funeral in July led to dozens of people being infected and hospitalized, even with some mourners wearing masks. A funeral in late February has been linked to an outbreak in a small town in Georgia.

In addition to allowing funeral homes to reopen, San Francisco’s plan also includes indoor guidance for malls, and outdoor guidance for hair salons, barber shops, massage businesses, swimming pools and gyms.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.