New cemetery brings personalized, 'alternative' burials to Kfar Saba

"Many, many Israelis are dissatisfied with the burial services of the hevra kadisha ," cemetery chair says.

cemetery 88 (photo credit: )
cemetery 88
(photo credit: )
A new cemetery in Kfar Saba wants you to bury your loved ones - or be buried by them - in whatever way you want. "Many, many Israelis are dissatisfied with the burial services of the hevra kadisha [official state-funded burial societies] in their city," believes Shalom Noy, chairman of the Menucha Achrona Cemetery in Kfar Saba. Many Israelis face obstacles to being buried according to their wishes, Noy explains, such as religiously intermarried couples who cannot be buried together because of the religious divisions in official cemeteries. Many more Israelis simply want a ceremony or burial that represents their beliefs and lifestyle, and that precludes the standard Orthodox ceremony or what some say are the often bureaucratic and unfeeling funerals conducted by official hevra kadisha groups. "Many people want a respectable ceremony to say good-bye to their loved ones. For them, that could mean burying them in a coffin, having a ceremony in a respectable public space, or taking control over the ceremony without having to listen to rabbis or the religious establishment," Noy says. The cemetery is new. Monday night saw its second funeral since it opened at the beginning of June. It is a part of a new crop of perhaps half a dozen Israeli cemeteries offering non-Orthodox burial services for Israelis. According to Noy, the Menucha Achrona Cemetery will offer both traditional and alternative funerals and burials. A section of the cemetery has been set aside as a Jewish-only plot that has been consecrated for the purpose by the town's official hevra kadisha. "We don't have a problem with halacha," says Noy. "If you want halacha, that's your choice." Civil burials have been legal in Israel since the passing of the Alternative Burial Law in 1996, but the first alternative cemetery met with resistance from religious parties and was only opened in 1999 in a special plot of land outside Beersheba. Israelis have also had the option of a secular or liberal Jewish burial on kibbutz land, but these have come with a price tag as high as NIS 15,000. The new cemetery is a non-profit organization and will offer the same service for free, paid for by the state stipend for burial - some NIS 5,000 from the National Insurance Institute. "What the kibbutzim do for money, we will do for Kfar Saba residents for free," says Noy. Non-residents of the town will have to pay some NIS 11,000, but this fee is a legally-mandated price set by government regulators for out-of-town burials. Not everyone is happy with the new cemetery. "This is unacceptable," says Shimon Peretz, a member of the Kfar Saba City Council from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. "I'm opposed to these burials, but Knesset legislation is on their side. I have spoken to my party's MKs to change the legislation so that our hevra kadisha remains intact, so keep us from suddenly turning into a 'different society.'" Peretz, however, is the only Shas member elected to the 19-member council that overwhelmingly supports the initiative. The cemetery is still partially under construction. "We're still planting the trees and grass and we're finishing the pathways," says Noy. When construction is complete, the cemetery will look different from traditional cemeteries, with graves arranged in groups under canopies to protect visitors from sun and rain. Burying your loved ones should be a dignified, personal event, Noy believes. "From now on," burial in Kfar Saba "is going to be different," Noy promises.