Inside a NY Jewish funeral home where COVID-19 means a regrettable business boom
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Photo essay'Greatness emerges from people in crisis'

Inside a NY Jewish funeral home where COVID-19 means a regrettable business boom

Gutterman’s Funeral Home director Dominic Carella says he’s seen nothing like the recent doubling in deaths over his 30-year career, and he never wanted to

  • Rabbi Jennifer Weinstein  inside Gutterman's Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    Rabbi Jennifer Weinstein inside Gutterman's Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • Dead from COVID-19 are waiting to be buried. The coffins are placed inside the main chapel at Gutterman's Funeral Home before being brought to their individual final burial site at a cemetery, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    Dead from COVID-19 are waiting to be buried. The coffins are placed inside the main chapel at Gutterman's Funeral Home before being brought to their individual final burial site at a cemetery, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • Rabbi Greg Ackerman stands next to a deceased in the chapel of Gutterman's Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    Rabbi Greg Ackerman stands next to a deceased in the chapel of Gutterman's Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • Gutterman's Funeral Home manager and funeral director Dominic Carella sits in one of the waiting rooms where families were once allowed to grieve, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    Gutterman's Funeral Home manager and funeral director Dominic Carella sits in one of the waiting rooms where families were once allowed to grieve, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • Another round of dead are brought out to the loading area at Gutterman's Funeral Home before being placed inside a hearse, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    Another round of dead are brought out to the loading area at Gutterman's Funeral Home before being placed inside a hearse, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • A casket just placed inside a hearse at Gutterman's Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    A casket just placed inside a hearse at Gutterman's Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • The dead are brought out to the loading area at Gutterman's Funeral Home before being placed inside a hearse, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    The dead are brought out to the loading area at Gutterman's Funeral Home before being placed inside a hearse, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • Staff at Washington Memorial Park cemetery carry a coffin to burial, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    Staff at Washington Memorial Park cemetery carry a coffin to burial, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • Gutterman's Funeral Home hearse driver Stanley Parnes attends the funeral of a COVID-19 victim with no family out of respect, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    Gutterman's Funeral Home hearse driver Stanley Parnes attends the funeral of a COVID-19 victim with no family out of respect, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
  • The burial of a COVID-19 victim at Washington Memorial Park cemetery, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
    The burial of a COVID-19 victim at Washington Memorial Park cemetery, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

While many companies are on the verge of bankruptcy from the COVID-19 pandemic, one industry has seen a macabre spike in sales. Business is booming for mortuaries, or funeral homes.

Established in 1892, Gutterman’s Funeral Homes have been directing funerals for the Jewish community in the New York City area for 128 years. In mid-March, it became clear that the Gutterman chapels would be on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis as the pandemic swept the Tri-State area.

By early April, most mortuaries were operating at full capacity, receiving and burying bodies at an unprecedented rate.

Dominic Carella, manager and funeral director at the chapel’s Woodbury, Long Island, branch has been profoundly affected by what he’s experienced in the last two months.

Bodies of those who died from COVID-19 are waiting to be buried. The coffins are placed inside the main chapel at Gutterman’s Funeral Home before being brought to their individual final burial site at a cemetery, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

“I have never seen anything like this in the 30 years I’ve been in the business,” he told The Times of Israel. Even following the 9/11 terror attacks, which killed thousands, “we did not have to endure such trials,” he said.

A regular pre-pandemic day may have seen Carella coordinating about five funerals. At the peak of the pandemic in early April, the funeral home was doing twice that.

Rabbi Greg Ackerman stands next to a deceased in the chapel of Gutterman’s Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

Furthermore, health guidelines forced the funeral home to change the way they operate and impose new restrictions for the bereaved who had lost loved ones to the pandemic.

Gutterman’s Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

Gatherings and eulogies inside the chapel were forbidden, and caskets were placed directly into the hearse for transport to the cemetery for burial. At the height of the pandemic, the funeral home and chapel were closed completely, and family — no more than 10 people and a cleric — were limited to the gravesite.

Gutterman’s Funeral Home manager and funeral director Dominic Carella sits in one of the waiting rooms where families were once allowed to grieve, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

It was common for a family member to shoot video of the funeral for those who weren’t allowed to come.

For Carella, the most difficult aspect of the health crisis was the fact that families were unable to look at their loved ones one last time. After the death of a family member, they would only see the deceased during the closed-casket burial.

A casket just placed inside a hearse at Gutterman’s Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

“I believe that this is probably the most difficult part of the process,” he said, as open caskets have been banned, and hospital visits, too. “It is hard to comprehend what family members must have gone through.”

Staff at Washington Memorial Park cemetery carry a coffin to burial, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

Today the situation has leveled off and the funeral home is largely operating as usual. However, Carella and owner Philip Gutterman believe that many pandemic-era practices are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The “new normal” will likely entail the mandatory wearing of facemasks, social distancing, and limiting the number of family members inside the funeral home.

Owner Phil Gutterman stands in the showroom at Gutterman’s Funeral Home, May 15, 2020, Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

Carella thinks that a second wave is entirely possible, and said that the funeral home “needs to be prepared, as far as extra equipment.”

“I’m confident that we’ll be ready for it, in case it does happen,” he said.

The burial of a COVID-19 victim at Washington Memorial Park cemetery, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)

Yet the funeral director remains optimistic and believes that the country can come together again. “Greatness emerges from people in crisis,” he said.

Gutterman’s Funeral Home hearse driver Stanley Parnes attends the funeral of a COVID-19 victim with no family out of respect, May 15, 2020. (Photo by Jonathan Alpeyrie/Polaris Images)
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