Jewish cemeteries in and around Toronto are starting to re-open for visitation, after being closed for nearly two months due to COVID.
Visiting hours are limited and vary by cemetery. Monument unveilings are still prohibited, and groups must be limited to five people or fewer, according to provincial regulations.
“Unfortunately, during the latter part of March and through all of April, we were faced with many more burials than usual due to COVID-19’s impact on our community,” stated a press release from Toronto Hebrew Memorial Parks. “We recognize how difficult the cemeteries being closed has been for the families and communities that we serve.”
Beginning May 17, Pardes Shalom and Pardes Chaim opened for limited visiting hours, Sunday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Visitors must wear face masks and are required to practice physical distancing unless they are in the same household.
The hand washing area and washrooms remain closed, and the cemetery is locked, except during visiting hours and to permit burials.
If the regulations are not observed, the cemeteries will be forced to close again for visitation and will only be open for burials, warned the THMP statement.
Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park and Dawes Road Cemetery have also re-opened with limited visiting hours and similar restrictions.
The rules regarding burials remain unchanged. All funerals are currently graveside, and are limited to 10 people, including clergy. If the deceased died of COVID, only clergy and funeral home staff may be present.
At Toronto’s Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park, the limited re-opening has gone smoothly, said general manager Lisa Benhaim.
“Everyone has been so appreciative that we’re opening,” she said. “It’s been fantastic. Everyone has been unbelievable.”
During the nearly two months the cemetery was closed for visitation, Benhaim said she received 25 to 30 calls a day about the situation.
“People were asking, ‘can I come in by myself?’ ” Benhaim said.
The cemetery currently opens at 4:30 p.m. after staff have gone for the day. Security guards record visitors’ names, phone numbers and licence plates in case there is an outbreak and visitors need to be contacted.
“People are coming in two by two, doing what they need to do, and leaving,” Benhaim said.