Rabbi Yael Splansky, the senior rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, says there has been a “significant and steadily growing” need for a place where interfaith couples can be buried side-by-side. Last month, she announced to her congregation that the synagogue has taken the lead in establishing a Jewish cemetery for interfaith families.
Eight other Toronto-area congregations have expressed interest in the possibility of establishing their own sections in the cemetery, she told The CJN. Rabbis of participating shuls will make up the cemetery’s rabbinic advisory group.
There is no biblical or Talmudic prohibition against burying Jews and non-Jews together, Rabbi Splansky said. However, she added, Jewish legal authorities who permit it call for “a clear perimeter to distinguish the section and to be sure that those who choose to be buried there know the makeup of the cemetery.”
The new cemetery is called Beit Olam, which is an ancient rabbinic term for a cemetery. It is located in Woodbridge, Ont., and is housed in the Glenview Memorial Gardens cemetery, which is part of a non-denominational chain of funeral homes and cemeteries owned by Arbor Memorial. The large Canadian chain has at least two other Jewish cemetery sections in the Greater Toronto Area for interfaith burials – in Stouffville and Ajax.
Beit Olam has been landscaped in such a way as to demarcate it as a Jewish cemetery, Rabbi Splansky said. An area with 200 plots has been developed, eight of which have been purchased, the rabbi said. There is room to eventually accommodate 2,000 plots.
A water source for hand washing is expected to be installed soon, said Tanis Floom, the designated Beit Olam staff person at Glenview, whose background includes similar work for the Shaarey Zedek and Rosh Pina cemeteries in Winnipeg. Shaarey Zedek, which is Conservative, opened its own interfaith cemetery in 2012, after Floom moved away.
Although the first burial at Beit Olam has yet to take place, the cemetery is currently open to Holy Blossom members and to the community, Floom said.
Beit Olam will be closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Cremation is discouraged, but can be accommodated if families choose it, Rabbi Splansky said. Jews who are buried there will undergo the standard Jewish pre-burial rites provided by Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel, and non-Jews may use either funeral home. Burial services will include only Jewish or non-denominational prayers and there will be no metal caskets, which are not permitted in Judaism. As well, only Jewish or non-religious symbols will appear on the headstones, according to information provided by Rabbi Splansky.
I think this is a pretty exciting time for the community.
– Michael Benjamin
“I think this is a pretty exciting time for the community,” said Michael Benjamin, the president of the Benjamin Group who has been involved in developing the new cemetery’s standards of practice. “It recognizes that there is a current need that has not been met. It’s my belief that that need is only going to grow.”
According to Rabbi Splansky, at least four congregations in the GTA have been providing interfaith burial sections for the past decade or so. Temple Sinai, for example, purchased a 130-plot section in the Lambton Mills Cemetery in 2008 for that purpose.
Outside of the Reform community, Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism has its own block of cemetery plots in Elgin Mills Cemetery, where intermarried couples can be buried alongside their partners.
The two largest Jewish cemeteries serving Toronto, Pardes Shalom and Pardes Chaim, do not permit interfaith burials.