Rabbi pleads with congregants not to visit dying relatives despite Government changing rules to allow it

Rabbi Miriam Berger, who officiated at the funeral of her own grandfather, said people should not be given 'impossible choices'


The rabbi of one of the largest Reform communities has pleaded with congregants not to visit dying relatives in hospital despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock changing policy last week to allow it.

Rabbi Miriam Berger — who last month conducted the funeral of her own grandfather, a victim of coronavirus — said people should not be given an “impossible choice” in her live-streamed sermon for Finchley Reform Synagogue on Shabbat.

Mr Hancock cited the case of Ismail Mohamed Adulwahab, who died alone in hospital aged 13 last month after testing positive for coronavirus, which had made him “weep”.

But Rabbi Berger warned, “Grief stricken parents who have potentially taken infection into parts of the hospital not yet infected or healthy grief-stricken parents now back out of the hospital newly infected.

"What do they do but return straight to their house to throw their arms around their daughter and comfort her after the death of her brother?

"Or do they take comfort from their ageing parents who envelop them in an embrace?”

Compassion, she said, was “not always the the best leadership. Not giving people impossible choices is sometimes much fairer.

"Don’t make a spouse in their 80s make the choice as to whether they come to the hospital to say goodbye. Don’t make the 50-year-old son choose to say goodbye to his mother and then isolate from his family so he is left to mourn alone.

“Don’t make people choose whether to be honest about if they think they may pose a risk in the hospital or the crematorium.

"Too many of us we will choose wrongly, we will go and say goodbye, letting emotion take over in those heart breaking moments, and in the compassion of giving us choice you give us a Hobson’s choice.

“Reassure us that our hospital staff are being the compassionate accompanying angels we want to believe they have time to be, but don’t encourage us into those hospitals making us a threat to our NHS work force or making our final goodbye to our loved one the moment that infects us too.”

Many hospitals were maintaining a no-visitor policy, she said.  “But if you or someone you know finds themselves given this terrible choice, please please prioritise yourselves and all those living and know that a lifetime of kisses, handholding and kind wise words will always be more powerful than any final ones can be.”

It was “not about who is at the bedside in the final moment,” she said. “It’s about how we give our dying dignity and our mourners support.”

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