A Burning Question

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Sybil Sage’s personalized mosaic urn. (photo credit: Courtesy)

PALO ALTO, California — When Elizabeth Stone’s mother Ann died last year in San Mateo, California, attendants from the University of California-San Francisco Medical School came quickly to pick up her body. The same thing had happened 11 years earlier when her father Daniel died.

“They came to take the bodies immediately and sent a thank you letter saying that their bodies would be cremated at some point within several years, but that there would be no notification and no possibility of claiming the ashes,” she said.

While her parents’ decision to be cremated, in addition to donating their bodies to science, might have shocked some Jewish daughters, Stone was unfazed. Her German-immigrant grandparents had been cremated, and she herself plans to follow the family custom.

A 20-minute drive south, one can see the cremated remains of Sandra Slater’s deceased parents and sister stored in wooden boxes in Slater’s home in Palo Alto. Some of her sister’s ashes were also scattered in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and put into a sculpture that Slater made of her.

“My mother, father, and sister were cremated,” she said. “There was really never any question that that’s what would happen.” Slater, an environmental consultant, plans on also choosing cremation (or perhaps liquefaction, should the technology be properly developed) when her time comes. Burial just doesn’t appeal to her. “My dead grandfather was in a closed coffin,” she recalled. To her, “that was creepy.”

To the surprise and disdain of many Jews, less than 70 years post-Holocaust, cremation appears to be a new Jewish family tradition. Increasing numbers of American Jews are choosing — contrary to age-old Jewish practice — to have their remains burned, rather than buried. In many cases, once one family member opts for cremation, it becomes an acceptable choice for many, if not all, of the others.

Lest one think that this is only something happening in the historically more liberal, less affiliated Jewish community in Northern California, Doron Kornbluth, a Canadian-born Israeli educator and speaker, provides some staggering statistics in his new book, “Cremation or Burial? A Jewish View”(Mosaica Press, 2012). According to Kornbluth, a full one-third of American Jews are now opting for cremation.

Click here to read more.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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