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Jamison Galt (right) leads a church service before the coronavirus. (Handout)

Metro Minute

How to run a funeral in a pandemic

A Brooklyn pastor says trying to help grieving congregants in the middle of the pandemic is an excruciating experience

A New York moment: 

Jamison Galt is the pastor of Resurrection Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, and in late March he heard a parishioner’s dad had COVID-19. He and the church member, Jeremy Caliz, prayed and went over all the potential scenarios. Galt was frustrated that he couldn’t go to the hospital or to Caliz’s house to support him.

“The whole experience is kind of anti-good news,” he said. “At first it was: I have to distance myself from my neighbor out of fear of them. And then the next thing is: The creation is not good, I can’t touch these good things, because it might have [the] virus on them. I might myself be a weapon, my body has become weaponized.”

Caliz’s father died in early April (see my story about it). 

Information on funerals and dealing with death during the pandemic was “not info anyone had prepared,” said Galt. New York is only allowing in-person funerals of fewer than 10 people at a graveside, and the various systems for handling remains were so backed up that Caliz couldn’t arrange a burial in the near future. Caliz and Galt planned a virtual funeral.

“Going through this entire crisis in New York City as a pastor has been excruciating—as it has been for everybody—but excruciating in the manner in which you’re unable to do anything that you’re trained to do,” said Galt. “I ask myself every morning, what does love require, and what am I actually able to do today?”

Galt had to learn to use Google Meet for the funeral. Normally after a death he would sit with someone and cry, not saying much. But as a pastor in the pandemic, all he has are phone calls. So he has to talk.

Galt led the funeral service from an empty apartment above his own, since his wife was working and their four kids were running around. At least twice during the service, audience members accidentally took over the screen on Zoom by sharing their own screens.

“You’re working up the preacher-ly energy, and it’s like, ‘So and so has taken over your screen,’” he said. Tech problems were a small factor in the difficulty that not being able to “come together and grieve properly” presented.

Another pandemic challenge for Galt: a church birth. Some Resurrection parishioners had long struggled with infertility, and after years of prayer they had a baby during the height of the pandemic. Galt couldn’t go to the hospital or see them. They Facetimed him to tell him that they named the baby after him.

This week I learned: 

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced drive-in theaters could operate statewide, one diner in Queens turned its parking lot into a drive-in theater. Its initial showings sold out, and it appears this is now the hottest ticket in town. 

A court case you might not know about:

A federal judge ordered the New York Democratic Party to un-cancel the state’s Democratic primary set for June 23. The judge said the party’s cancellation of the primary was “unconstitutional,” even with coronavirus concerns.

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, a New York resident, brought the lawsuit, which former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined as well. Though Joe Biden is the sole primary candidate, the vote could have apportioned delegates to other candidates that would influence the party platform. 

Culture I am consuming:

A Hidden Life, another masterpiece from writer/director Terrence Malick, which tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian who refused to swear loyalty to Adolf Hitler in World War II. 

I didn’t realize until seeing the film that the title comes from one of my favorite quotes from my favorite novel, George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Eliot concludes the book: “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” 

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Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images

A player from Team Israel is greeted by teammates after scoring a run during a game against Team Cuba at the Tokyo Dome in 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Yuki Taguchi/WBCI/MLB via Getty Images)

Metro Minute

Baseball and banking

Meet the New York analyst who will be a baseball pitcher for underdog Team Israel at the Tokyo Olympics

A New York moment: 

I had lunch with Eric Brodkowitz, 23, who by day is an analyst at Goldman Sachs and by night is preparing to be a starting pitcher for Israel’s Olympic baseball team. A Jewish New Yorker, he has taken on Israeli citizenship to join the Israeli team and helped lead it over the last year to one of the six spots in the Olympic baseball tournament. 

Brodkowitz sprinkles training into a high-stress, 60-hour-a-week, finance job. He keeps dozens of baseballs at work and takes an hour at 2 p.m. every day to sneak out to a baseball field near the Goldman Sachs offices, just in the shadow of the World Trade Center. 

“I don’t know how I got so lucky,” he said about having a baseball field near his office. He works until 7 or 8 p.m., and then does yoga. On weekends he and another teammate drive north of the city to train with their coach.

Though baseball began in the United States, the American baseball team has not yet qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. So far Mexico, South Korea, Japan, and Israel have the slots. Almost all of Team Israel are Jewish Americans by birth, so they’re encouraging Americans to root for the underdog team if the United States doesn’t make it into the Olympics—and if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t halt the games.

The coronavirus outbreak caused officials to postpone qualifiers for Team USA.

Major League Baseball—which canceled the rest of its Spring Training Thursday and delayed its opened day because of the coronavirus—will not allow active players to go to the Olympics, which derailed Team USA’s prospects at the last summer games. South Korea (the previous gold medalist) and Japan are allowing their professional players to represent their countries.

“The caliber of talent is very high,” Brodkowitz said of facing South Korea and Japan’s top players. “But the Jewish spirit is there!” 

Yale University recruited Brodkowitz as a starting pitcher, but after four years of pitching he didn’t think a professional team would draft him. He focused on securing a job. But between graduation and starting his job, the Israeli national coach called and asked him to join the team. His new bosses at Goldman-Sachs assented, though Brodkowitz assured them the team had a “very low probability” of making it to the 2020 Olympics. 

He was wrong. The team went 17-4 in international tournaments over the summer to win an Olympic slot. The upstarts have been fundraising from American synagogues and groups like the Jewish National Fund to support their Olympic journey. 

Brodkowitz grew up a Yankees fan, and his dad is from the Bronx. 

“Baseball had been my entire life for 20 years,” he said. But playing for Israel felt more meaningful than playing “for me,” he said, especially when he hopes team sports in Israel will help heal divides between Jews and Arabs. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to July in Tokyo, and hoping the coronavirus doesn’t cancel the games. 

This week I learned: 

It’s popular for New York politicians to go after big developers constructing luxury buildings. But new studies find that as high rises go up in a city, housing prices go down, although middle-to-high income residents tend to benefit from the price decrease. 

A court case you might not know about: 

A blockbuster trial in Manhattan ended with a conviction of former CIA coder Joshua Schulte for lying to the FBI. But the jury deadlocked on whether Schulte leaked information to Wikileaks, in what the agency says is the largest loss of top secret data in its history. 

Culture I am consuming: 

The Possibility of Prayer, a new book by John Starke, my pastor! I’m biased but I think it’s good. 

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Christopher Capozziello/Genesis

David Berkowitz (Christopher Capozziello/Genesis)

Metro Minute

Interviewing a criminal

Sometimes reporters don’t have all the details they want when writing a profile

A New York moment: 

I recently went to a maximum security prison north of the city to interview serial killer David Berkowitz, who now describes himself as a Messianic Jew. At the same time, I happened to be working on a piece on the rise of anti-Semitism, and Berkowitz mentioned after our interview that he has been following that trend as well, and praying for the Jewish community. 

I had some follow-up questions for him after our interview, mainly about whether he has community in and out of the prison walls, or if he feels lonely. Since I can’t pop into a maximum security prison or give him a phone call, I wrote him a letter. At the end of January, he wrote back, using his prison-approved typewriter. He hadn’t yet seen the now-published article about him.

To answer my question on community he said, “Yes, as a whole, many who are now members of the body of Christ and remain incarcerated, do sense varying degrees of loneliness and detachment from the body of Christ. I thank God for those who are involved in jail and prison ministries. The Lord uses such to bring prisoners much needed encouragement and hope. But prison ministry is not for everyone.” 

He insisted that he is “not lonely for fellowship” and has “a number of dear and faithful friends.” He said he has received a “fair amount of acceptance from the Christian community as a whole,” but added, “Of course, there will always be a certain amount of skeptics.” 

This is a nice answer, but doesn’t provide much specificity. That’s not necessarily Berkowitz’s fault, but rather the journalist must draw specificity out of a subject. If we were talking more in person, I could press him. Who do you talk with most regularly inside prison? Who do you talk to most outside of prison? How much time in the day are you by yourself? 

We had two hours to talk face-to-face in prison, but I had to decide in the moment what to prioritize in that short time. He insists he isn’t lonely; I came away with a different impression, that of someone who has sporadic visitors and has no contact with his family.

Sometimes you have to draw a portrait of a subject without as much interview time as you would like, with a limited window into someone’s life, with only a sketch of his psychology, and you pray that what you gathered is fair and true. 

Worth your time:  

Writer George Packer gave a wonderful speech on the purpose of writing, which I think can apply to any endeavor in these polarized times. I’ll be going back to this piece regularly. He seems to be on the same page as Alan Jacobs in his wonderful book, How to Think, which emphasizes the importance of empathy in our arguments over important issues.

Packer says the current mentality in much writing is needing “a community behind you, vouching for you, cheering you on, mobbing your adversaries and slaying them.” But he counters: “Writers are individuals whose job is to find language that can cross the unfathomable gap separating us from one another.”

This week I learned: 

The new order blocking immigration from Nigeria (among other restrictions on other countries) affects many people around me in New York, including people in my church, who have family back in Nigeria. This segment on WNYC helped explain, mostly in an informative and balanced way, the details of what the order means.  

A court case you might not know about: 

A New York appellate court has upheld a lower court ruling that fantasy sports bets are illegal gambling.

Culture I am consuming: 

Kirk Douglas died on Feb. 5 at 103, which brought to mind a great film Douglas starred in, Ace in the Hole, from writer/director Billy Wilder. Nearly seventy years after its release, it still feels like a relevant look into the media environment. Based on real events, the story follows an ethically challenged journalist looking for his big break so he can leave a small town paper and head to the glittery newspapers of New York. It’s a dark film, unlike most of Wilder’s work, but it is one of the great take-downs of journalists’ hubris, which I think is needed alongside the movies like Spotlight or All the President’s Men. 

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