Despite Lack of Burial Plots, Be’er Sheva Won’t Let Christians Build New Cemetery

The Zikaron organization has been seeking to establish a Christian burial site in the town since 2001.

An organization seeking to establish a Christian cemetery in Be’er Sheva has met with opposition from the municipality, which says sufficient burial plots for Christians already exist in the city. The organization, Zikaron, has been seeking to establish a Christian burial site in the town since 2001.

The facility would serve in large measure as a final resting place for Christians from the former Soviet Union, many of whom immigrated to Israel with Jewish relatives.

Be'er Sheva cemetery - Eliyahu Hershkowitz - February 2012
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Among the issues in contention, however, is how many Christian residents the city has. Zikaron claims there are at least 20,000. The city points to an estimate from 2008 that puts the number at 1,300.

According to the Interior Ministry, there are about 60,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union living in Be’er Sheva. Many are listed with the ministry as “without religion.” These include immigrants with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers who are not considered Jewish under Orthodox Jewish religious law, but many may not seek Christian burial.

In 2001, the city’s mayor at the time, Yaakov Turner, agreed to allocate land for a Christian cemetery. He said after he left office that the decision was reversed, but that he still supported its establishment.

The existing Christian cemetery in the town is full, said Gahsi Azrieli, a member of Zikaron. He said Christians were currently buried in an alternative cemetery that was established for Jews who did not want to be buried according to traditional Jewish law, halakha.

Last year, Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi issued a letter supporting separate burial facilities for Christians rather than simply having them buried in an alternative secular cemetery.