Sinai Memorial Chapel, the only Jewish funeral home between Los Angeles and Seattle, will start livestreaming most of its graveside funeral services by the middle of this month, executive director Sam Salkin has announced.
The cost-free option will allow family members and friends — who may not be able to travel during the pandemic for health or cost-related reasons — the ability to view and listen to the funeral service on their computer or cellphone.
Family members can send invitations to the service through a passcode-protected link. After the service ends, the video is archived for later viewing.
“This is the future, as far as I’m concerned,” said Joshua Alpert, a funeral director at Sinai Memorial, which has headquarters in San Francisco and locations in Lafayette and Colma, and handles burials at Gan Shalom Cemetery in Briones and Home of Eternity in Oakland. “I know a lot of people in the community have been waiting for this. This allows people to get closure and mourn.”
At the moment, Sinai Memorial is conducting only graveside funerals in accordance with pandemic guidelines. Counties are limiting how many can attend, varying from 10 to 25 people, Salkin said, depending on the county.
The funeral home has already used a livestream at Eternal Home Cemetery in Colma, and Salkin described the experience as “beautiful.”
Once the pandemic ends and Sinai returns to conducting funeral services inside chapels, Salkin said that these will also be livestreamed. With the current graveside services, there is only one camera, but he anticipated that viewers might end up getting multiple angles in the near future.
Salkin speculated that the livestreaming option may shift people’s attitudes toward attending funerals.
“I think that it will change the culture in some ways,” Salkin said. “It’s just hard to know to what magnitude. More and more people may choose not to travel for funerals. But time will tell. I think it is going to have an impact.”
Funding for the streaming came from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, Salkin said, but he declined to say how much the program is costing.
While livestreaming of funerals was around before Covid-19, only a minority of funeral homes offered it. According to a 2019 Wired article, about 20 percent offered the service. One survey during the pandemic in 2020 revealed that 40 percent of consumers now expect to have funeral services livestreamed.