Consistent with its charitable mission, CAJAC exists as a resource to organizations and individuals operating and/or administrating burial at Jewish cemeteries. CAJAC provides discrete consultation and training, to any stakeholder, on best practices, including: proper governance, property maintenance, financial resource management, repairs, and general administration. In coordination with its partners in law enforcement, CAJAC can also evaluate a cemetery’s physical security and offer advice based on its vast experience helping protect at-risk cemeteries.
For additional information or to schedule an initial consultation, please contact Andrew Schultz, Executive Director, at 914-357-4198 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background: Fulfilling Our Obligation to the Deceased
The biblical command of kavod ha-met, “respect of the deceased”, commences from the moment a person, Heaven forbid, passes away and extends indefinitely. The expressions of this value include the tahara, or ritual washing of the deceased, shemira or guardianship of the deceased, and finally, ensuring a decedent is brought to their final resting place in expeditious fashion. The group facilitating this sanctified rite is known collectively as the Chevra Kadisha or “Holy Society”.
Kavod ha-met is satisfied over time by individuals or organizations operating burial grounds. Historically, cemeteries and burial grounds have been operated by synagogues and other benevolent groups (i.e. burial societies). Similar to a Chevra Kadisha, cemeteries and burial grounds are often operated by volunteers. In fact, many of the early operators were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who placed tremendous emphasis on ensuring the Jewish community had a place to bury its dead.
Caring for Cemeteries: Our Gravest Challenge
Despite broad recognition of this sacred duty, many individuals and organizations are struggling to physically maintain and financially sustain their Jewish cemeteries. Diminishing grave sales and burials, in addition to shifting demographics and lack of leadership succession, have adversely affected a growing number of Jewish cemeteries in Greater New York. Furthermore, many volunteers involved in cemetery operation lack proper training and insight, particularly as it relates to the systemic challenges and financial pitfalls revolving around Jewish cemeteries. In many cases, this has led to sharp financial decline and the need for significant subsidization and relief efforts. In other cases, this has led to the complete abandonment and physical demise of Jewish cemeteries.
Today, a large number of Jewish organizations are involved directly and indirectly with cemetery operation. Many of the same organizations are currently prosperous and successful. Yet, only time will tell how long these vibrant organizations will remain as such. History demonstrates struggling or declining organizations have certain options, whether consolidation, merger, or at-worst, liquidation. Cemeteries are indeed a permanent fixture and necessitate a permanent solution for their physical and financial well-being.