By MATTHEW WAGNER
After months of delays, the Treasury will transfer in the coming days NIS 18 million to more than 20 cemeteries across the country that are on the verge of closing their gates to the deceased after reaching maximum capacity, according to government sources.
Cemeteries in Hatzor, Dimona, Kiryat Malachi, Tivon, Kiryat Gat, Ofakim, Yokne'am, Karmiel, Nahariya, Ma'alot, Shlomi, Yeroham, Sderot and in other towns have been on the brink of closing for months. In Dimona, residual soil shifts have upturned headstones and, in some cases, uncovered bodily remains.
But at long last the Treasury's accountant-general, Yaron Zelikha, approved the transfer.
Normally, development of cemeteries is done at the beginning of each year. However, due to delays in funding, work was either put off or local councils funded the development from their own treasuries with the understanding they would be reimbursed at a later date. Local councils took the task upon themselves to prevent a situation in which there would be no room to bury their citizens.
Every Israeli citizen is entitled to a free burial, funded by the National Insurance Institute, in the city or town in which he or she lives. Individuals who choose to be buried in a specific plot or in a cemetery outside their city of residence must pay.
According to government estimates received by The Jerusalem Post, the total deficit accrued over the years by local councils for development of cemeteries is approximately NIS 70m.
Jewish religious services were transferred to the Prime Minister's Office in May 2004 after the Religious Affairs Ministry was dismantled at the beginning of that year. In June 2005, the National Religious Services Authority was created, headed by Meir Spiegler. The authority is responsible for marriages, divorces, burials and the upkeep of mikvaot (ritual baths).
The Construction and Housing Ministry is responsible for building synagogues and mikvaot.
The total annual budget for religious services is NIS 210m. An additional NIS 70m. was transferred this year in an attempt to solve salary delays to thousands of religious council employees. However, hundreds of religious council workers continue to receive only a portion of their salary and many retired religious council workers receive only a portion of their pensions.
In many cases this is due to the budget problems of the municipalities and towns in which the religious councils are located.