Situation Grave for Jerusalem Ashkenazim

Bereaved families will soon have to resort to high-density burial methods as graveyards start to run out of plots.

A severe shortage of gravesites in Jerusalem has forced some local burial societies to adopt high-density burial methods - which are not always looked on favorably by the families of the deceased.

The problem is so far confined to Ashkenazi cemeteries; Sephardi cemeteries still have space left for traditional graves. Thus Ashkenazim who want a traditional Jewish burial can opt to be interred in a Sephardi cemetery instead. But that usually means a Sephardi burial ceremony as well.

The main Sephardi cemetery's land reserves are expected to be exhausted in about another year and a half as well, after which Sephardim, too, will have to get used to high-density burials - unless they choose interment by one of the smaller burial societies, which still have plots to spare.

Altogether, Jerusalem has 16 burial societies. The two largest are the main Ashkenazi and Sephardi societies, while all the others serve specific subgroups, for instance Afghani, Georgian and Yemenite Jews.

Three types of high-density burials

Three types of high-density burials are practiced in Israel: double burials, in which spouses are buried in the same grave, one atop the other; niche burials, where the grave is a niche dug into a wall; and multistory burials, in which graves are place in the floors of each story of an above-ground building.

The shortage of gravesites in Israel will not end anytime soon. Though a plan to allocate another 50 dunams (about 12.4 acres ) to existing cemeteries is moving through the approval process, Sephardi burial society director Yossi Gil said that in the best-case scenario, it will be ready only in another two and a half years - and is expected to be completely occupied in a mere seven years.

Another, larger expansion - of 250 dunams - is at a much earlier stage of the approval process.

But in the long run, said Hananya Shahar, who runs the Ashkenazi society, there will be no choice but to move to high-density burial for everyone.