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’Til Burial Do Us Part?

A Brooklyn temple seeks an interfaith cemetery

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Prague’s famous Jewish cemetery.(Flickr)

A bidding war over a Brooklyn cemetery could end up providing a local solution to a much more widespread conundrum: Where should the members of interfaith families be buried?

On July 15, the New York State Cemetery Board will decide who can purchase and develop Canarsie Cemetery. The bidders include two other Brooklyn institutions: Cypress Hills Cemetery and Green-Wood Cemetery. If Green-Wood gets the 13-acre land, they plan to designate a portion of plots for Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform temple in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, which hopes to create a place where interfaith couples can be buried.

The idea came to Rabbi Andy Bachman after he had one too many conversations with frustrated congregants who didn’t know how to handle the traditional protocols against interfaith families in Jewish cemeteries. “Beth Elohim is typical of many Reform synagogues,” explained Bachman. “A couple might be ‘interfaith-less,’ that is, both are not practicing, but they might, when they have kids, be very happy to light candles or give their child a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.” He continued: “For all intents and purposes they are living as Jews. Then one day, someone dies of a heart attack and there is no plot. The Jewish part of the couple can be buried in a family plot, but when the other half of the couple dies, they cannot be buried next to them.”

Beth Elohim’s plan raises many questions surrounding whether or not intermarried couples should be buried together in a Jewish cemetery. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which was convened by the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, recommended this halachic solution: “The creation of ‘mixed burial’ sections in Jewish cemeteries, where non-Jewish spouses and children may be buried alongside Jews. The mixed section should be separated from the rest of the cemetery by a path, a road or a sidewalk of four amot (1.9 to 2.3 meters wide.)”

“It’s like they are saying that they are segregated in life and not welcome in perpetuity,” was Bachman’s response to that.

After the Cemetery Board makes its decision, any sale must then be approved by the Mayor, City Council, and a State Supreme Court judge, according to Nicholas S. Pisano, Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller of Green-Wood Cemetery.

Pisano has also been a member of Congregation Beth Elohim for the past 11 years; he converted to Judaism this past April. “Personally, being in a mixed marriage, my wife and I never thought about what would happen when we passed away,” said Pisano. “I always thought there would be space for me and my wife, never thinking I couldn’t be buried there.” He added, “I’m like a shoemaker with no shoes.”

Cemeteries Are Becoming New Challenge for Interfaith Families

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Sprite1_1 says:

It is specifications like “The mixed section should be separated from the rest of the cemetery by a path, a road or a sidewalk of four amot (1.9 to 2.3 meters wide.)” the drive Jews affiliated with the Reform movement crazy.

What, 1.8 meters isn’t enough to keep out the contagion?

If Pisano converted to Judaism as the article notes (and his wife was Jewish) then it is not a mixed marriage now. I assume mixed means one partner has not converted. Or do cemeteries go by other rules?

Beth says:

Eli, it also depends on whether or not the conversion is recognized by orthodox or conservative authorities.

Fran says:

At Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles, where I work as a pre-need sales counselor, we do not separate families. We are owned by Temple Israel of Hollywood, a Reform synagogue, and they support the idea that families should be together, even if unconverted. The Union for Reform Judaism supports this viewpoint.

53. of course like your web-site but you have to check the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth nevertheless I will definitely come back again.


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’Til Burial Do Us Part?

A Brooklyn temple seeks an interfaith cemetery

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