New Jewish cemetery seeks to discourage cremation
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.”
Rabbi Jay Lyons, director of the South Florida Jewish Cemetery, wants to discourage Jews from getting cremated.