Technology Meets Tradition: Funeral Webcasts

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Rarely do I lead a service anymore, (ANY service!) during which at least one cellphone doesn’t go off. It can be a Bar Mitzvah… CELL RINGS! It can be a wedding… CELL RINGS! Or it could even be a funeral… CELL RINGS!

I guess it is understandable, after all who would want to miss that all-important call during worship. :sarcasm:

This, however, is a very different story about technology and worship…

I had the privilege of officiating at the funeral of a wonderful individual yesterday. While every funeral is sad, there was something almost joyous about this particular funeral. Why? Because he was clearly a remarkable man who was deeply loved. Why else would there have been as much laughter during the funeral service as story after story was told? That only happens when someone has truly lived a good life.

There is a tradition within the Jewish community that funerals take place as quickly as possible. Perhaps this comes from our originally being a desert people, or perhaps it comes from an understanding that it is difficult to truly begin grieving until after the funeral has taken place. Regardless, most of the time funerals take place within 24 to 48 hours. At most they take place 72 hours later. That wasn’t an issue in the old days when people lived close together. It is a very different story when people are miles apart and often need to fly in to honor a loved one who’s died. There are, in fact, often times when some key relative cannot get in. Obviously that makes a difficult time even more challenging for them. That’s where the technology piece of this post comes in.

When I went to look up the funeral home where the service was taking place I noticed something rather unusual.

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In the left-hand column there was a button that indicated that funeral services could be both webcast and listened to by phoning-in.

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Mind you this is an entirely new for me. I have officiated at numerous weddings in which I actually took out my cell phone and put it on the podium so that a grandparent who was unable to attend could listen in. One time in fact, a grandfather who was in Israel offered the blessings through the phone to his grandchild. Moreover, we are just about ready within our synagogue to offer live streaming services each and every time one occurs in the main sanctuary. It’s a new era in  technology that enables us to do things we could never even consider doing before. Heck, all our Bar/Bat Mitzvah study materials are now available on the synagogue’s website!

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This, however, really struck me. Because funerals generally place within 48 hours, they naturally lend themselves to streamed video-casts better than any other lifecycle rituals within my tradition. Obviously it is always best when key people can be physically present, but how great that someone who might be on the other side of the world can now be as present as possible despite the distance.

That’s what I call a good use of technology; that’s what I call a great example of technology meeting tradition.

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.