Shortage of Non-religious Cemeteries Burdens Families

"I'll never forgive the state for the way it humiliated me," Alex Maruschenko of Tiberias said. "My mother's body was still warm, and they rejected me like a dog. For me, it's like the state spit in my face. I'm a reserve soldier in a combat engineering unit and I swear I won't report for reserves," he said.

Maruschenko's mother, whose father was Jewish but whose mother was apparently not, died of an illness about six months ago. Alex was told there was no place in the new municipal cemetery near Moshav Hazorim for those who are "dubiously Jewish."

The case of Maruschenko's mother is typical of thousands of Israelis, mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who cannot be buried near their homes because of a lack of non-religious cemeteries, despite the law requiring their establishment.

With the help of Shalom Oved, who owns a factory for grave markers, Maruschenko eventually convinced the Afula municipality to allow his mother to be buried in its cemetery. The graveyard has a section for those who are "dubiously Jewish." To visit his mother's grave, he must take two buses and a taxi from the Afula central bus station.

Oved says he has encountered many such cases. "The next time something like this happens, they won't do us any favors in Afula or Upper Nazareth, and I'm afraid the body will stay in cold storage for a month," he said.

Until a few years ago, people whose religious identity was unknown were buried in the Scottish Church cemetery outside Tiberias, but the church cancelled the arrangement. In any case, MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) says: "Many of the deceased were atheists and not Christians. Why should they be buried in church grounds?" she says.

The creation of cemetery sections for "dubious Jews" currently are dependent on the good will of the local authorities. In Afula, Upper Nazareth and Kiryat Shmona, for example, the respective city councils voted to establish them. In many cases the issue is a bone of contention, as it was a few years ago in Migdal Ha'emek in the north, with immigrants' representatives pitted against Shas. Eventually Migdal Ha'emek did decide to establish the cemetery in nearby Moshav Kfar Baruch.

The Tiberias municipality says the city's religious council was to have established the section, but because of a lack of funding it did not. The religious council says it is the city's job.

The law mandates the establishment of a non-religious section whenever a new cemetery is created or an existing one expanded. The city recently asked the Interior Ministry's department of religious communities to fund a cemetery for people whose Judaism is in doubt, at a cost of NIS 1.5 million. The Interior Ministry says the matter is being dealt with.

The law mandating the cemetery sections for non-religious burial, passed 12 years ago, is also not being followed; such cemeteries have been established only in Kiryat Shmona and Be'er Sheva. Other such cemeteries are private, with plots costing between NIS 10,000 and NIS 30,000.

In 2007, NIS 11.5 million was allocated for non-religious burial. None of it was spent and the money was returned to the Finance Ministry.

"The state prevents civil marriage and sends people to Cyprus to get married. Does it think that the dead can also be sent there?" Solodkin said.