Monday, September 13, 2010

Everything in this country is politics, even funerals

Yesterday I was at the funeral of an elderly relative of my husband's.   As with everything in Israel (like Daylight Saving's time - see previous post), it was a political statement in itself.

In Israel, burials are controlled by the religious authorities. So if you're Jewish (as around 75-80 of the citizens are), you have been pretty much forced to bury your dead in the municipal graveyards, controlled by religious authorities. The burial is strange for Americans to see. The ceremony is outside under a simple canopy at the entrance to the cemetary. Everyone stands; no seating is available. The men and women are usually separate.  No microphone. You can't hear if you're not close.  Then after the (usually simple and brief) ceremony, everyone goes on foot to the site of the burial.  The body isn't in a box, but wrapped in a white shroud.  At the gravesite, the attendants jump into the hole, and lay the shroud into the ground by hand; no electrically driven elevator silently lowering it down, but real men working hard to get an object wrestled into a deep hole in the ground. Its rather brutal and very very direct.  I was shocked the first few times I saw it. 
  Yesterday, the daughter of our relative chose an "alternative" cemetary, which is supposed to cater to the needs of those who oppose the religious authorities dicating to us, or also those who aren't Jewish, or who's jewish credentials aren't "kosher" enough for the authorities.   It was beautiful. Plants, green grass, trees,  chairs for the ceremony, bottled water on hand, and even a pine box with the elevator at the gravesite. Wow....      It felt like we were making a political statement just by attending the funeral; defying those who dctate how we bury our dead.

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