Israeli Widows, Widowers Distraught After Government Deal Bars Them From Burial Beside Spouses

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Dr. Yosef Shiklosh in front of his wife's grave.
Dr. Yosef Shiklosh in front of his wife's grave.Credit: Emil Salman

Four years ago, Dr. Yosef Shiklosh and his wife Aviva bought adjoining plots in the cemetery at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim near Jerusalem. Aviva died two and a half years ago and was buried there. A large stone with the name Shiklosh was placed over the adjoining plots. Yosef, who is 90 years old, has been visiting his wife’s grave every week since she passed away.

But two weeks ago he received a letter from Dalet Amot, the company that manages the cemetery. The letter states that he will not be able to be buried next to his wife, and that the money he paid for the second plot would be returned to him. Shiklosh is one of 50 widowers and widows whose spouses are buried in the Kiryat Anavim cemetery to receive such a letter. The reason? An agreement between the kibbutz and the Israel Land Authority now prohibits the interment of people who are not kibbutz members, in effect closing the only secular cemetery in the Jerusalem area to future burials.

The owners of the plots in question and Dalet Amot have launched a legal fight against the agreement.

The cemetery was opened for burial of non-kibbutz members in 2010, despite a 2004 government decision that “restricts the right to burial in kibbutz cemeteries to kibbutz members.” But according to Oded Niv, the CEO of Dalet Amot, the Land Authority was aware that plots were still being sold and even signed off on a permit to expand the cemetery.

That same year the state comptroller criticized the Land Authority for not closing off the kibbutz cemeteries to non-members. In 2013, the authority issued an order prohibiting continued burials, but permitted the interment of those who had already purchased plots – as well as their first-degree relatives. This was the loophole through which Dalet Amot continued to sell plots to almost everyone who asked. In many cases, couples purchased adjoining plots.

Yosef and Aviva Shiklosh.Credit: Courtesy of the Shiklosh family

Since 2010, some 300 people have been buried in the Kiryat Anavim cemetery. The average cost of a plot is 45,000 shekels ($12,445). For Jerusalem residents who rejected religious burial and the overcrowded local Har HaMenuchot cemetery, Kiryat Anavim was almost the only possibility for secular interment near the city. “I wanted a respectable secular burial, not that thing that happens on Har HaMenuchot. There, it’s a city you get lost in,” said one of the owners of a Kiryat Anavim plot.

About a month ago, a compromise was signed in legal proceedings between the kibbutz and the Israel Land Authority. The agreement includes resolutions to various problems for the kibbutz, and has a clause instructing that burials of non-kibbutz members cease immediately. Following this, Dalet Amot sent letters to the owners of the plot rescinding their burial rights and saying their money would be refunded. According to Niv, about 50 people will not be able to be buried alongside their spouse. There are a few cases in which parents buried their children and hoped to be interred next to them in the future. They have also received letters notifying them of the revocation of their plots.

“My father is buried there. My mother suddenly got this letter. She’s terrified of the thought that all of a sudden she won’t be able to be buried next to her husband one day,” said attorney Moshe Dover, who filed a court request for his mother, Ruth, asking to join the processes between Dalet Amot, the Land Authority and the kibbutz. “My right to be buried with dignity next to my late husband is a fundamental and basic human right and since receiving the letter I can’t sleep at night,” Ruth Dover wrote the court.

“My father was in a labor camp in Yugoslavia, he managed to flee the death march with the help of the partisans. He met my mother in 1945 in Hungary and they were together ever since,” said Gideon Shiklosh, the son of Yosef and Aviva Shiklosh. “For my mother this was everything. He lost his whole family and they wanted to be buried together. It’s very worrisome.”

Dr. Karni Rubin, a psychologist from Jerusalem, wrote Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked: “I was shocked to discover that the draconian agreement was put together without hearing the parties involved, particularly the widows and widowers and the bereaved families whose loved ones are already buried in the cemetery.” Rubin asked the minister that she be allowed to be buried next to her husband, Anatoly, a Holocaust survivor and former prisoner of Zion, who was buried in Kiryat Anavim a year and three months ago. “Separation from a loved one is unbearable in any case; I found small comfort in the thought that when the time comes, I will be buried alongside him. In light of the compromise made on our backs, I will be deprived of the possibility of keeping my promise to be buried alongside him and I wonder whether I should disinter him to keep my promise. Did anyone consider the suffering and heartbreak caused to me and many others like me?”

Niv concedes that he bears partial responsibility for what happened because he continued to sell gravesites even after the legal situation became complicated. He said the pressure on him from grieving families was heavy, adding, “It’s not about me. There has to be a response on a human level. In any case, no other use can be made of that land.” He admits that Dalet Amot continued burials at the site despite the government decision at the time, but adds that the decision also included a commitment to establish secular plots for non-religious burials in the city’s regular cemeteries. This part of the decision has not yet been implemented.

The Land Authority responded that restrictions on burial in the cemetery are “in accordance with a legal verdict detailing who has the right to be buried at the site. The Israel Land Authority checked and found that the operator of the cemetery has ostensibly contravened the verdict to bury at the site against the rules set out by the verdict.”

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