New Jewish ceme­tery seeks to dis­cour­age cre­ma­tion

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - Local - By Lois K. Solomon South Florida Sun Sen­tinel

A new Jewish ceme­tery aims to dis­cour­age cre­ma­tion, an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar op­tion among Jews that is frowned on by re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties, by of­fer­ing traditional burial at what or­ga­niz­ers say is a rea­son­able price.

The non­profit burial site, near Lake Worth, opened last week on 15 acres off Congress Av­enue. There’s room for 15,000 plots, said Rabbi Jay Lyons, the ceme­tery’s di­rec­tor.

To keep costs down, Lyons, an Ortho­dox rabbi, said most grave mon­u­ments will be small, and there will be no vaults, or outer con­tain­ers for cas­kets. Cas­kets will be made of sim­ple pine wood in the Ortho­dox tra­di­tion. The ceme­tery is open to all Jews, whether they are un­af­fil­i­ated or mem­bers of a syn­a­gogue.

All de­ceased will be buried ac­cord­ing to Ortho­dox Jewish tenets, such as never leav­ing the dead alone be­fore burial, wash­ing of the body by a group of

same-sex vol­un­teers and dress­ing the corpse in a sim­ple white shroud.

Tra d i t i o n a l b u r i a l i s within 24 hours of death be­cause of a bib­li­cal com­mand­ment: “You shall bury him the same day … His body should not re­main all night ” (Deuteron­omy 21:23).

Lyons said the Ortho­dox com­mu­nity de­cided to cre­ate the ceme­tery as lead­ers no­ticed alarm­ing rates of cre­ma­tion among South Florida’s Jews.

Joe Ru­bin, a fu­neral di­rec­tor in Boyn­ton Beach and Del­ray Beach for 27 years, said the Jewish cre­ma­tion rate in South Florida is about 16 per­cent, up from 10 per­cent 12 years ago.

Keith Kro­nish, a Jewish fu­neral di­rec­tor in Boca Ra­ton, of­fered sim­i­lar num­bers: 12 to 15 per­cent, up from about 5 to 8 per­cent 20 years ago.

Kro­nish said these rates are low es­ti­ma­tions as many Jews who are un­af­fil­i­ated with a syn­a­gogue may choose a non- de­nom­i­na­tional fu­neral home or cre­ma­tion site to process their re­mains, thus staying out of the purview of Jewish fu­neral di­rec­tors.

There’s no one who main­tains na­tional sta­tis­tics on cre­ma­tion for the Jewish com­mu­nity. The Amer­i­can Fu­neral Di­rec­tors As­so­ci­a­tion pro­jected 55 per­cent of Amer­i­cans would be cremated in 2018, up from 40 per­cent in 2010.

Traditional Jews con­demn cre­ma­tion be­cause of sev­eral bib­li­cal pas­sages that they say sup­port the in­ter­ment of a dead body, in­clud­ing Abra­ham’s burial of his wife Sarah in the bib­li­cal book of Gen­e­sis. They also re­fer to this pas­sage in Ec­cle­si­astes: “Then shall the dust re­turn to the Earth as it was, and the spirit shall re­turn to the God who gave it.”

Some rab­bis say they have pleaded with fel­low Jews not to choose cre­ma­tion.

“It is so painful that within the life­times of sur­vivors of the cre­ma­to­ri­ums of Nazi Ger­many, the ‘Jewish’ re­al­ity has be­come that cre­ma­tion is ac­cept­able,” Rabbi Sholom Ci­ment of Chabad Lubav­itch of Greater Boyn­ton Beach said in an email. “As Jewish fu­neral costs con­tinue to soar, this is­sue will only grow larger. But equally ter­ri­fy­ing, and in­her­ently con­nected, is a ram­pant ig­no­rance amongst our peo­ple. Folks whose grand­par­ents might have been ex­posed to tra­di­tion and with their pass­ing Jewish prac­tice ended in the fam­ily, are able to coldly re­buff any talk of Jewish tra­di­tion with ‘we are just go­ing to do what ev­ery­one else is do­ing nowa­days.’ ”

Still, there are a “host of rea­sons” why Jews are choos­ing cre­ma­tion, said Rabbi An­thony Fratello of Tem­ple Shaarei Shalom, a Reform con­gre­ga­tion in Boyn­ton Beach.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence with cre­ma­tion is it’s not a fi­nan­cial de­ci­sion,” Fratello said. “Some peo­ple see the phys­i­cal ceme­tery as waste­ful. It’s land that could be used for some­thing else, and it’s locked in for­ever. There are also peo­ple who don’t like the thought of be­ing buried.”

Fratello said he too as­so­ciates cre­ma­tion with the Holo­caust, when Jews’ bod­ies were de­stroyed in ovens i n Na z i c o n c e n t ra t i o n camps.

“It was a means to eradi- cate us,” he said.

De­spite such un­fa­vor­able as­so­ci­a­tions, fu­neral home di­rec­tors say Jews con­tinue to opt for cre­ma­tion, as well as burial in mau­soleums, also pro­hib­ited by some Jewish au­thor­i­ties for its above-ground place­ment.

With its non­profit sta­tus, South Florida Jewish Ceme­tery aims to ad­here to Ortho­dox tra­di­tions while keep­ing prices sig­nif­i­cantly lower than many other grave­yards. All plots will cost $3,600.

Grave mon­u­ments, with the sim­plest cost­ing about $800, and fu­neral ser­vices, at about $4,000 and ar­ranged through a fu­neral home, cost ex­tra; the to­tal price for the con­sumer would be close to $9,000. This com­pares with as much as $15,000 for some Jewish fu­ner­als and buri­als in South Florida.

Still, most cre­ma­tions cost less than $2,000.

“Burial will never be as cheap as cre­ma­tion,” Lyons said. “We wanted to show you can do a sim­ple model of a Jewish ceme­tery, with a sim­ple pric­ing struc­ture and no hid­den fees.”

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AMY BETH BEN­NETT/SUN SEN­TINEL

Rabbi Jay Lyons, di­rec­tor of the South Florida Jewish Ceme­tery, wants to dis­cour­age Jews from get­ting cremated.

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