“We Bury Treasure, We Burn the Trash”
(from Cremation or Burial by Doron Kornbluth)

With cremation being chosen by more Jewish families today than any time in the past, this topic was of the greatest concern for attendees at this year’s JCANA Conference in Los Angeles, May 4-7.

At one well-attended session entitled “The Challenges of Cremation within the Jewish Community,” Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, Founding Director of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha, emphasized that Jewish tradition and practice forbids the burning of the body. He suggested that rabbis of all denominations use the opportunity they have when officiating at a traditional funeral service to encourage in-ground burial.

Rabbi Zohn emphasized that burial demonstrates an appreciation of the family’s roots and ancestry which future generations will have forever, provides the family with greater closure, contributes to family unity and continuity and demonstrates respect for the body which serves as a vessel for our souls during our lifetimes. He also said that burial shows respect for the Holocaust during which Jewish bodies were burned, leaving millions of Jews without a grave or memorial.

Rabbi Zohn suggested that rabbis discuss the biblical mandate and historic tradition of burial practiced by Jews for millennia. Ultimately, every rabbi can teach the meaning of in-ground burial by addressing the topic at the most comfortable and appropriate point for the family and the occasion.

Rabbi Zohn concluded, “The goal is for every rabbi to use the opportunity of every traditional Jewish funeral to educate their community, affiliated and otherwise, to the importance and meaning, privilege and advantage, of in-ground traditional burial in a way that is positive and impactful and at a time that is appropriate for such education.”

We thank Rabbi Zohn for his perspective on educating the Jewish community about the importance that Judaism places on in-ground burial.

Stan Kaplan

Roosevelt Memorial Park was opened in 1928 at a time when most other Jewish cemeteries in the Philadelphia area were crowded graveyards with narrow graves. The founders, three brothers with the surname Robinson, who were successful businessmen, developed a park-like area for a new cemetery with trees planted to provide a sylvan setting and walking paths with benches and fountains. Initially, there were two distinctly different areas. One catered to the many immigrant organizations associated with people of similar backgrounds or originally from the same regions. The other area catered to the increasingly successful business community which established large private family plots.

The original owners sold the business in 1957 but Roosevelt continued to run as a family enterprise. David Gordon, a retired businessman, took over the management of the cemetery in 1983. There is no Board of Directors or institutional affiliation. The cemetery, which was sold to Service Corp. International (SCI) in 1997, is still run very much as a small family business but with the additional benefits of large corporate input.

Interestingly, in the 1960’s, Roosevelt became the first cemetery in the United States to computerize its records. At that time, too, Roosevelt introduced the first community mausoleum in an American Jewish cemetery.

Roosevelt is unaffiliated with any particular synagogue or denomination. It accommodates all burials, both in-ground and above-ground. Although there is a chapel in the community mausoleum which may be used for funerals, today most services are graveside. There are crypt spaces, niches and cremation gardens and some above ground crypts covered with earth. Spouses of another faith are buried with their Jewish partners. The Philadelphia VAAD (association of Orthodox rabbis) may authorize burial in a special section for the Orthodox and there is a separate entrance way for kohanim (men descended from the Jewish priestly class) to avoid prohibited contact with the deceased. Genizas (holy writings or ritual objects) are buried at no cost to synagogues and religious schools.

Roosevelt considers itself an important part of the greater Philadelphia area community. It holds an annual commemoration between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to which a large number of community members have come since the late 1950’s. It maintains a close relationship with area rabbis and holds classes for rabbinical students to teach them about funerals and cemetery management.

One of Roosevelt’s most unique programs involves elementary school children who are brought to the cemetery by the head master of one of the Hebrew day schools to demonstrate a complete funeral process. The youngsters bring sacred books, paperwork and ritual material that they saved for this occasion to bury according to Jewish rules governing the disposal of such material.

Today there is a dramatic increase in the number of cremations and interfaith marriages among Jews. Mindful of the current controversies about how Jewish cemeteries should handle these challenges, Roosevelt makes every effort to both uphold Jewish tradition and respect the interests of bereaved families.

For more information about Roosevelt Memorial Park, visit their website: www.rooseveltmemorialpark.com.

The second chapter of the biblical book Kings II describes the unique end of the life of Elijah the Prophet, the zealous messenger of God and a performer of miracles. As Elijah is walking with Elisha, his heir to prophecy, God sends a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire. According to the biblical account, Elijah does not “die.” Rather, he ascends to heaven in a whirlwind as his cloak drops to the ground, retrieved by Elisha, who literally “takes up the mantle” as the next prophet of God.

A recent article in the New York Times briefly discussed the life of Josephine Sarah Marcus, the Jewish common-law wife of Wyatt Earp. The couple is buried together in Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California, near San Francisco.

The annual JCANA Conference was held in Los Angeles on May 4-7 at the Crowne Plaza Beverly Hills. Many sessions were devoted to the theme, “JCANA Examines Emerging Trends Related to Jewish Burial.” The conference drew representatives from over three hundred Jewish cemeteries throughout North America.

The Conference opened with a keynote address by Rabbi David Wolpe, Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Rabbi Wolpe emphasized the Jewish community’s sacred, time-honored obligation to ensure that the dead are brought to their final resting place in accordance with Jewish tradition. According to Rabbi Wolpe, this is one of the most profound expressions of sympathy and respect that the decedent’s family and members of the Jewish community can provide. Rabbi Wolpe’s remarks were augmented by those of Rabbi/Cantor Didi Thomas, who provided insights into the challenges confronting traditional Jewish burial practices, including interfaith burials.

One of the highlights of JCANA’s annual conference was the “Ask the Rabbi and Regulator” panel discussion. The panel provides a unique opportunity for cemetery operators to pose questions related to cemetery policies, religious matters and regulatory compliance. This year’s panel included Richard Fishman, formerly of the New York State Division of Cemeteries, Daniel Redmond of the California Department of Consumer Affairs and Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, Executive Director of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha (NASCK), who was confronted with several complex inquiries related to adherence to halakha (Jewish law.)

The Conference also featured presentations on best practices, cost-effective cemetery management and high-level marketing strategies. Robert Levonian, of the Los Angeles-based LCB and Associates, discussed methods for maximizing space in older cemeteries. This subject resonated with many conference participants, as a growing number of Jewish cemeteries are struggling to physically accommodate Jewish in-ground burials, in keeping with the conference’s emphasis on traditional Jewish burial practices. Conference participants were also exposed to innovative opportunities for community outreach. Jill Glasband, of Hillside Memorial Park (Los Angeles), described her organization’s efforts to connect teenagers and pre-teens with the concept of Jewish burial, helping young people develop a greater appreciation of our traditions.

Conference participants also had the opportunity to take tours of historic Jewish Los Angeles, the Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary and the Breed Street Shul.

The Conference identified and addressed the changing dynamics and culture within the Jewish community and educated the participants about resources and strategies for more effectively sustaining their cemeteries. As an organization, JCANA continues to expand its efforts to support its member cemeteries – and the broader Jewish community – in their efforts to preserve Jewish cemeteries.

For general information, please contact Stan Kaplan: stankaplan@jcam.org
For membership information, please contact Amy Koplow: akoplow@hebrewfreeburial.org

Please visit our website: www.jcana.org