Monday, October 11, 2010

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Last week I posted on the necessity of having a will, living will and medical proxy drawn up, regardless of your age. What I didn't mention was what should be in that will. Now obviously no human being is identical to any other human being; they don't have the exact same family dynamics, they don't own the same possessions etc. Thus, their wills will be different in content as well. However, there is one element that should be present in every will, and it's an element that most people find rather macabre to be discussing. The subject? Where would you like to be buried?

I certainly hope that I will be zocheh to many more years on earth, and I wish that for my husband, my children and all my loved ones. But the truth is that our time on earth is finite, and eventually that time will be up.

For many Jews, their preference is to be buried in Israel. If that's the case, then make your wishes clear. If you don't care which cemetery in Israel then say so. Should you have a preference--perhaps you already have family members buried in a particular cemetery--then say so. If you have already purchased a plot then make that clear and give all the information.

This is a conversation that married couples should be having with each other--it's not always as simple as it may seem. The other day someone actually asked me "Do you want to be buried next to your husband?" Err, yes I do. And this has engendered some strange conversation in our house. My in laws are no longer living and are buried in Israel in the Beit Shemesh cemetery. My father is no longer living and is buried in Har Ha'Menuchot, where my mother has already purchased a plot next to his. Both my husband and I would like to be buried near family. So, which family? (Note: until you have had this discussion you cannot begin to understand just how strange it can be.)

And while we are being macabre on a Monday morning, let's also mention the cost of burial. If Israel is your choice, be prepared that this is a costly decision. Many people, when they are still relatively young, purchase plots in Israel. Yes, this is a lot of money to be committing now, when money may be tight and needed for other things. But as with everything else, the price of burial plots only goes up, not down, and if you don't pay ahead the costs down the road will come out of anything you are leaving to your children, assuming there is anything left to leave. In Har HaMenuchot the cost of a single plot is $15K+, and that is only for the plot. That doesn't include a matzeivoh, nor does it include transport from the US. The Beit Shemesh cemetery "only" charges $5K+ for the plot. 34 years ago that plot in Har HaMenuchot was "only" $1700. Imagine what it might cost 30, 40 or 50 years down the road (even assuming that any plots would be left there).

So, not to disturb your enjoyment of that cup of coffee you've just poured, but the discussion of where to be buried is another one of those responsible things adults are supposed to do. So pick your moment and sit down with your spouse. Should your spouse wonder why you are raising the subject, you can always blame me for having brought it up--I won't mind, as long as the subject is raised.


Abba's Rantings said...

i simply can't understand why people want to be buried in israel.

i'm also not sure what's the difference which family members will be burial neighbors, although it can make it simpler for later grave visits if husband and wife are buried together.

when you mentioned the question of being buried next to your husband, i thought you were raising a different issue. i recall that my mother's father's burial society had separate sections for men and women and didn't permit spouses to be buried together.

also, people who will be buried in israel should be aware of the divirget local customs and regulations. for example, my grandfather is buried in bet shemesh (he bought a "prime" plot many years ago through YU). i recall there was a problem because we wanted some (minimal) english on the tombstone so my grandmother could read it, but the cemetary objected. also, my grandfather had saved a talis that he wished to be buried in, but right before the burial we learned that they don't bury there in a talit. there were also other problems, like no women at the grave side, etc. (on the other hand, another thing that sticks out my mind is that right before the body was lowered into the ground a representative of the hevra kadisha asked my grandfather for forgiveness if they wronged him during the tahara and other preparations)

also, if you plan to accompany a deceased love one to israel, make sure your passport is up to date and at home (not in a bank vault). and keep in mind that a last minute ticket to israel can cost thousands of dollars.

Abba's Rantings said...

you also didn't mention perpetual care

Boruch said...

My grandparents never owned their own home. They were for their whole lives apartment renters. But they did own real estate. When a cemetery announced they were opening 2 new sections my grandparents and their few remaining siblings plus an uncle who made it through the camps bought up most of one section. These people never knew when their parents and other siblings were killed or even where. It was a great comfort to my grandparents to know that at least when they died there would be people who came to the kevorim and paid kovod ha'mes.

There are many family members buried in that cemetery and it is a nechomah for me to be able to go to my father's kever on his yahrzeit and in the days before saying yizkor. We also stop at each kever of the family to pay kovod.

It may be a hard thing to discuss but burial wishes should be known and respected.

Anonymous said...

Some people just can't face this whole idea. My in laws brought it up once when we were all together and my husband had to walk out of the room. He can't or won't discuss it.

Trudy said...

Our shul brought up this topic for us many years ago. They invited members from various cemetery organizations here and in Israel to come down and tell us about their services and prices. Lots of people bought then because it was convenient. Another shul I've heard of has a shul cemetery where they got a whole bunch of plots and because they were sort of buying in bulk they got a better price for the members.

Not a bright and cheery topic but a necessary one so you might as well discuss it and then you don't have to talk about again.

JS said...

I also don't understand the desire to be buried in Israel. Maybe it's because I have many relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust and whose burial place is unknown. Or perhaps, I find it silly to base burial decisions on a midrash about tunneling to Israel when mashiach comes.

The cost of burial in Israel is astronomical and I frankly see it as a waste of money. Beyond that though, I've seen many families deal with the tremendous hardships such burial involves - tremendous expense and anguish of making travel arrangements for the funeral, problems with Shabbat or other holidays, problems with sitting shiva, etc.

Beyond that, burial in Israel often means that family cannot visit the grave site. It also makes it more difficult to ensure that the site is being maintained properly.

Abba's Rantings said...


"It also makes it more difficult to ensure that the site is being maintained properly."

long term maintenance might actually be a good reason to bury in israel. there is a big problem in america (to say nothing of in europe) with abandoned jewish cemeteries that no longer have a local communities to care for them.

but other than this, i just think burial in israel is silly and extremely narrow-minded.

JS said...

Your point is well taken. My point was that even with the family paying for annual upkeep of the site, if someone isn't able to visit and ensure that the upkeep is actually being done, the site will deteriorate.

Anonymous said...

I am a funeral director in a Jewish cemetery in the Western part of the country. Perhaps I can add a couple thoughts.
1. You can count on paying about $10,000 for a funeral and property. Maybe more, depending on which casket you choose, etc. Not usually much less.
2. A long service with videos,and speaker after speaker, is often over the top and people get bored. Much of the reminiscing is better saved for the shiva period.
3. ANY preparations you make in advance are more helpful than you will ever know. Make a list of information you'll need (you can get help from any mortuary), note your preferences, save up to pay for the service. This will save your family from the excruciating and expensive task of making big decisions while exhausted and grieving.

tesyaa said...

Don't assume you have plots when you don't. A relative might tell you that he or she has purchased plots for you and your spouse, but don't count on it - due to a misunderstanding they might never have been purchased, or they might have been sold.

Anonymous said...

It's important to have this conversation with your spouse, but also with your kids. My parents (who grew up in the same town, going to the same shul but don't live there anymore) REALLY wanted to be buried in the same cemetary as their parents and some of their grandparents. When their cemetary of choice started getting crowded, they made sure to do whatever they could to get plots there, next to each other (and my aunt and uncle will be next to them). And they made sure to tell my brother and me (we are currently in our 30s), so should something happen, we know which funeral home to call, what shul to work with, etc., etc.

No one likes to think about it, but it's really important to discuss. My parents (who both lost parents at young ages) recognize the gravity of the situation and considered it their responsibility right along with the living will, regular will, etc., etc. And it's a huge help to my brother and me when the time (hopefully decades into the future, poo poo poo).