As we see more intermarried couples within the Jewish community, we will also see more intermarried couples who want to be buried together in a Jewish cemetery. Rules generally bar this practice, forcing these couples, regardless of their level of commitment to the Jewish community, to be buried elsewhere. But according to the Boston Globe, a new Jewish cemetery in Wayland, MA has taken steps to “increase options for interfaith families” who want to be buried next to each other.
Steve Grossman, the treasurer-elect of Massachusetts, said the opening of the new cemetery – named Beit Olam East – reflects the reality of today’s increasingly diverse Jewish family. “Being open, accessible, pluralistic, and welcoming is how you refresh religious tradition,” he said, adding that our traditions are kept strong by both remembering the past and trusting the future. Fred Lappin, president of Sharon Memorial Park, another cemetery that accepts interfaith families, supports Beit Olam East, saying that he believes it’s the job of a Jewish cemetery to “serve the Jewish community as it changes over time” and make sure it is always meeting the community’s needs.
With its consecration, Beit Olam East became just the seventh of 209 Jewish cemeteries in Massachusetts to officially accommodate interfaith families. Stan Kaplan, president of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, said this is insufficient and that it’s wrong to continue to “exclude people who want to be affiliated with Judaism.” He believes the inclusive nature of the cemetery is part of the reason “people are so excited about Beit Olam East.”
At the same time, we recognize this is a controversial topic that deserves more debate. But we believe there is room for compromise. Some Jewish cemeteries have used decorative edging to distinguish the plots of non-Jews, creating what JOI’s executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky calls “independent sacred spaces.” This kind of creative and nuanced approach shows that we can find sensitive solutions to questions surrounding interfaith burial.
Ultimately, we hope to reach the point when intermarried families – especially ones that were involved in Jewish life and raised a Jewish family – will find an eternal home in the Jewish community and not be forced to rest outside our gates. We appreciate the positive steps being taken to address this issue as we look for ways to open all Jewish communal doors to intermarried families.