Even in pandemic, Jews flown to Jerusalem for burial

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by Michael Blum

Serge Bokobza’s family did not want him to be buried anywhere but Jerusalem so when he died of coronavirus they transferred the body from France, despite the difficulties during a pandemic.

The 70-year-old doctor from a Paris suburb was laid to rest a few weeks ago on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, home to the holiest sites in the Jewish faith.

It was a funeral that bore all the hallmarks of the coronavirus age, with gravediggers dressed in sterile coveralls and protective masks.

Only one member of his family, the rabbi Shraga Dahan who lives in Israel, was allowed to attend.

“I installed the (videoconferencing application) Zoom so that everyone could follow the burial directly,” Dahan told AFP.

“Hundreds of people were present virtually but at the actual site we were around 10, including the funeral employees. It was very strange.”

Since the beginning of the new coronavirus outbreak, Israel’s skies have been mostly empty with borders almost sealed and few commercial flights.

But a number of planes can still be seen on the tarmac at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, some carrying the bodies of Jews who requested to be buried in Israel or Jerusalem.

Some families paid large sums to overcome the complications of transporting remains during a pandemic.

Due to the few flights to Tel Aviv, some “families had to rent private planes to bring the bodies of their loved ones and paid huge sums,” said Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, founder of the Zaka organisation which helps facilitate funerals in Israel for Jews from abroad.

Recently a Jewish family in New York paid $250,000 to transport a body, he said.

Around 250 foreigners, whether they died of the virus or not, have been brought to Israel since the beginning of the pandemic, Meshi-Zahav said.

Normally there are around 1,500 per year, he added. (AFP)

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