Archive for March 9th, 2011

A Grave Decision

Besides visiting my daughter in Israel, one of the most important things I wanted to accomplish was buying two cemetery plots for my husband and myself (may we live in good health to a ripe old age) in the Holy Land.  I had called my local rabbi and asked what things I should consider when choosing our graves.

To sum up, he said, “Location, location, location.”

His first concern was the expense involved, and that maybe I should forgo being buried in Israel altogether since most of my family lives in the U.S.  But I told him that years ago I had taken out a very small, inexpensive life insurance policy specifically to cover burial costs, so as not to overburden my children, and that if I couldn’t live in Israel, at least I could die there.  That, and the fact that people buried in Chutz L’Aretz will, at the time of techias hameisim (when the dead arise), will make their way to Israel by tunneling underground – not a pleasant prospect.  I don’t know if this ma’aseh is true, but it’s enough to scare me . . . to death.

History shows us that Jewish communities in the Diaspora rise and fall, come and go – but the Land of Israel is eternal.  It just seemed like the logical thing to be buried in Eretz Yisrael.  But there are practical matters that made my choice of the cemetery in Beit Shemesh easy:  Yerushalyim was simply too expensive.  At nearly $10,000 per grave at Har HaMenuchos (and much, much more than that on Har Tzion), Beit Shemesh is easy to get to (on the way from the airport to Jerusalem), in a beautiful hillside location (a view to die for . . .), and the cost per plot was $4900 (still expensive, but cheaper than an apartment).

Tombstones at the cemetery in Beit Shemesh

The cemetery in Beit Shemesh

The rabbi I spoke with said that another reason it’s considered more desirable to be buried in Jerusalem is that there are many tzaddikim and talmidei chachamim buried there, and it’s considered meritorious for one’s soul to be buried in close proximity to those who will be judged favorably when the dead shall arise.  Sounds nice, but let’s face it:  who am I?  What are the chances that someone from the burial society is going to sell me graves next to the Gadol HaDor (leader of the generation)?  I am just an average person, someone who tried to do the best I could albeit not always successfully. I have my share of mitzvos, but I also have my share of aveiros.  So I chose to be buried amongst people like me.

Even in death, we must choose our affiliations in terms of which 'hood we wish to be buried in. . . (click to enlarge)

One thing nice about the cemetery in Beit Shemesh is that there are no stairs. The graves are easily accessible, so anyone disabled or frail can still visit their loved ones.  I also loved the view.  I have always been at home in the mountains, and it would be a fitting permanent home.  I thought my children would be comforted at this place, because surrounded by the trees, the mountains, and the view, it would surely remind them of my husband and myself, hopefully in a positive way.

A recently added section of the cemetery

I realize most people reading this entry feel it’s pretty strange to be talking about something in such comfortable terms.  Discussing death in most cultures is pretty much taboo.  Losing my mother and mother-in-law has erased my fear of death.  In my mother’s case, I experienced it up close, and though it was sad, it was not the terrible, horrible thing we all fear – it was really just part of the process of life.  At the end, she was so tired, so used up.  Her death was peaceful and dignified and I felt privileged to have been there.

Of course no one wants to confront the possibility of death, especially not with a loved one.  And all my bravado does not apply to young people taken prematurely from this world, lo aleinu.  I remember when my mom, still in good health and of sound mind, went to the cemetery and made all her own arrangements, at least a decade before it was necessary.

Certainly I am not ready to die!  I am loving life, especially now when I am producing, creating, enjoying, appreciating.  Perhaps that is why I can make these arrangements not in fear or dread but rather as part of a checklist.

The cemetery director showed me which sites were available and I picked the two plots that I preferred.  I even photographed them so my husband could see them, too.  The cemetery director asked me if I wanted him to take a picture of me standing in front of the plots.  I declined.  That was a bit too morbid, even for me!

It was a good feeling I had when I left the cemetery in Beit Shemesh; not a morose one.

Alas, it was not meant to be.  After filling out the paperwork, which I sent with a check, I got an email from the cemetery director’s representative:  “I am SO sorry, but apparently the plots you picked out were sold 3 weeks ago to a couple from New York. . . perhaps you’d like to choose something else?”

But having familiarized myself with the area, I was not interested in  the particular plots that were still available.

I guess you could say I’m waiting for the plots that will make me plotz.  Until 120!