Reform shul allows mixed faith burials

By Simon Rocker, February 1, 2013

One of the Reform movement’s largest synagogues, Alyth in north London, is to give mixed-faith couples the chance to be buried next to each other in a Jewish cemetery.

Non-Jewish spouses of Jewish members of the synagogue will be able to be buried in a special section of the new woodland cemetery at Cheshunt.

Around one in five couples of the 1,500 families who belong to Alyth — or North-Western Reform Synagogue as it is officially known — comprise a Jewish and non-Jewish partner.

For some years, non-Jewish partners have been able to become “associates” of the synagogue, with nearly 100 having taken up the offer.

Associates will now be able to join a burial society enabling them to be interred at Cheshunt or take the same option of cremation available to Reform Jews.

Death should not separate lifelong partners

Alyth’s Rabbi Mark Goldsmith noted that non-Jewish spouses supported their children’s Jewish upbringing and took part in synagogue activities.

“While quite a number of non-Jewish partners choose to convert to Judaism during their marriage,” he said, “many do not. It is right and decent that we accord our associates the same dignity in death as in life and recognise that their bonds to their partners are as strong as any Jewish couple.”

Mixed-faith burials will take place at the Jewish Joint Burial Society Woodland Cemetery, which was opened last year next to the Orthodox Western Cemetery at Cheshunt.

For a non-Jewish partner, the burial service must not use a liturgy connected with another faith and the grave cannot carry symbols of other religions.

Mike Frankl, chairman of the JJBS, which serves a large number of Reform, Liberal and Masorti synagogues, explained that the new cemetery had three sections.

“There is a lawn section in which Jewish people and their non-Jewish partners can be buried in a double-depth grave. There is also an area in the woodland section where they can be buried together.” The third section, also in the woodland section, is reserved for Jewish couples.

Mixed-faith burial facilities have already been available in a number of Reform communities, as well as in the Liberal movement.

Jonathan Romain, the rabbi of one, Maidenhead Reform, said: “The Reform movement has decided it is not right to separate in death those who have been together in life for many decades, and so synagogues are now extending burial scheme arrangements to non-Jewish partners in designated mixed-faith areas of the main cemetery”.

Last updated: 11:45am, February 1 2013