Shiva in the time of covid-19

Shiva in the time of covid-19

Google worksheets help a family arrange in-person and Zoomed visits

Stacey Springer Goldberg and her father, Leonard Springer, take a moment together at Stacey’s wedding, many years ago.
Stacey Springer Goldberg and her father, Leonard Springer, take a moment together at Stacey’s wedding, many years ago.

“My father was absolutely my best friend,” said Stacey Goldberg, who recently sat shiva for him. It would have been important for her father, she knew — and important for her family as well — that she observe that shiva as fully as she could.

With the help of her husband, her daughter, and her community, she was able to do so.

Did her 90-year-old father, Leonard Springer, die of covid-19? “That depends on who you ask,” said Stacey’s daughter, Meryl Goldberg, who fears that her grandfather might have died of loneliness.

Like many people with covid, he died alone. “He was in the Hebrew Home in Riverdale and we couldn’t see him for a while,” Meryl said. But the family celebrated the man they lost as someone who had lived a full life, embracing hard work, good friends, and devotion to family.

According to words written for one of his two memorial services, which more than 80 people joined on Zoom, “Lenny shared his love of life and sage wisdom such as ‘do as many favors as you can in this world and ask for as few as you absolutely need’” with his four children and 10 grandchildren. He lived by his own dictum, starting as a traveling salesman right out of high school and building a number of successful businesses. He also gave back, later offering his expertise by volunteering for SCORE NYC, an organization that let him mentor young entrepreneurs.

Mr. Springer was born and grew up in Brooklyn and was a longtime member of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood. He was married to his wife, Myrna, for 60 years; she died in 2016. According to his obituary, “He lived his life as he wanted while being mindful of always taking care of his family and anyone else in his life who needed support or help….”

The shiva observed for this beloved man resulted from the combination of “dad’s creative skills and my technical skills,” Meryl said. “Mom has three brothers, and they had different plans about what to do. My grandfather grew up Orthodox and had a strong connection to Ahavath Torah. We were insistent on a full shiva.”

Using a Google forms document as their basic organizing tool, Meryl and her father, Charles, established times both for socially distanced but still in-person shiva calls and for online meetings. “We set it up so that one household could come at a time for a 20-minute time slot” for in-person visits, Meryl said. “It was a little awkward, but we had to tell people to leave so we could sanitize and clean the chairs” for the next group. All visits were outside, with people staying at least six feet apart from each other, and a propane tank was kept nearby to ward off the chill.

For people who preferred not to visit in person, Zoom shiva calls were arranged, with a formal minyan at 8 p.m., led by Rabbi Arthur Weiner, the religious leader of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, to which the Goldberg family belongs. In addition, virtual visitors could sign up for smaller, 20-minute Zoom phone meetings with the family, “so my mom could have conversations with everyone who was calling,” Meryl said.

“We didn’t want people to feel they had to be there in person if they didn’t want to,” Meryl, who is 22 and lives in Manhattan now, said. “We were very cautious.” She’s a law student at Cardozo, and “I was making sure nothing bad would happen. I looked at the CDC document and made sure we were doing nothing wrong.”

The idea, original to the Goldberg family, was to send out the Google form to their closest friends and family, and then post it more widely through Facebook. The form automatically updates as people sign up for slots. Meryl coordinated the project. “It’s a little bit of craziness, but mom is able not to feel so impacted,” she said. As it turned out, the shiva worked well, and Meryl is now preparing a similar document for a friend whose father is ailing.

The Goldbergs found that combining personal visits with Zoom visits had a variety of benefits. “Cousins from California and my best friend from Florida could attend services even if they couldn’t be here now,” Meryl said. And her mom, who grew up in Tenafly, could be surrounded by community. “And we didn’t have to clean the house every night,” Stacey added.

“I had been telling my husband that I was having a very hard time, with covid, not being able to hug,” she said. “But being able to do a Zoom shiva brought me people who couldn’t otherwise be here with me. That was extremely comforting — college friends, childhood friends. It takes it to a new level. And it limited the people to talk to, so I could talk to all of them during specific slots.

“I give my daughter a lot of credit. It was the most personal way to set this up, a social distancing shiva.”

Leonard Springer, who died on April 21, is survived by his four children, Fred, Jay, Stacey, and Matt, and their spouses, Eileen, Lauren, Charles, and Susan. He was the grandfather of Paul, Amy, Ilana, Greg, Colleen, Madeline, Ryan, Meryl, April, and Madison