US moves to cut burial transfer costs

By Jonathan Kalmus, January 8, 2009

People moving from city to city will face a lesser financial burden to change their burial arrangements if the United Synagogue’s national burial fee transfer scheme is implemented.

The US is asking Orthodox synagogues to guarantee to forward a fixed element of a congregant’s past fees to another Orthodox burial organisation. At present, accumulated fees are lost when a person moves to another burial society.

US burials head Melvyn Hartog says he wants to make it financially easier for people to move and retain the protection of a burial society. “I fully accept there are small burial boards that have financial constraints,” he said this week.

“We need all societies to be refunding a bit more, even though transferring fees won’t cover a burial. My proposal was to refund 80 per cent of what people have paid.” Mr Hartog estimated that US members will have contributed £1,000-1,200 in fees over the course of a lifetime.

It is hoped that a nationwide agreement will be offered to Orthodox burial societies by the spring.

The existing system has penalised the growing number of people who are moving away from smaller provincial communities to be nearer to families in major Jewish centres.

Stanley Steinberg, 63, who moved to Manchester from Glasgow two years ago, welcomed the initiative. He said he had paid burial fees in Glasgow for 43 years and felt the scheme would alleviate the fears of many.

“I know people who have had difficulties transferring fees when they moved and it hasn’t worked out for them. I have had concerns myself.

It’s a lot of money for people to suddenly find and I was unhappy about possibly paying twice for the same thing.”

However, the US plan has come too late for people like Laura Valins, whose father did not pay burial fees when he moved to Manchester after decades in Glasgow. Mrs Valins says she was forced to pay £5,000 on the day of her father’s funeral because his burial fees from Glasgow could not be transferred.

“It’s wrong to have to pay a sum like £5,000 before a shovel goes into soil on the day of the funeral when my father had paid for so many years. No matter where you go you, should be able to call on that money.”

Manchester Council of Synagogues life vice-president Malcolm Simon is among those who has campaigned for national fee transfers.
“People in their 60s and 70s are suddenly confronted with huge entry fees because they want to move near their children — it’s absolutely disgraceful,” he said.

“We are a more mobile Jewish community than ever and people should be able to move from one place to another without a penalty.”
The US has this year increased the entry fee to its burial scheme to £2,000 per person for those 70 and above and to £3,000 for 80-year-olds. It costs a non-US member £8,100 to be buried at Bushey. In Manchester, the Orthodox burial cost for a non-member has been raised from £5,000 to £6,000.

Last updated: 6:48pm, January 8 2009