Where do we go from here?


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The overgrowth at Highgate Cemetery, London

The overgrowth at Highgate Cemetery, London

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times this morning, discussing the impact of vanishing Jewish burial societies. As the community members grow older and eventually pass away, there are fewer people available (or willing) to coordinate the administrative and burial traditions.

Right now, New York’s Office of Miscellaneous Estates has stepped in to handle these details, giving the remaining members a sense of relief that they will be placed at rest in their respective cemeteries. Yet ultimately, the longer term question of who is responsible for these and other abandoned cemeteries, hangs unanswered.

There’s certainly no dearth of interest in cemeteries. Type “cemetery blogs” into Google and hundreds of links pop up, proving a fascination with lopsided monuments and intriguing carvings. Visiting is fun. It’s informative, a link to past history whether or not it’s my own. It’s a chance to give someone life again by saying his or her name aloud.

But then I leave.

Right now, the Jewish burial societies have an office mandating their final wishes but who takes care of those other abandoned cemeteries? Who is responsible for the long-forgotten community cemetery or family burial site that’s way off into the woods? Are the current residents responsible for the upkeep or should they be left to fade away if the area is now abandoned?

Considering the previous appetite for housing tracts, would it be better to simply turn it all over to developers and be done with it?

Is it a taxpayer issue?

What can be done to interest the upcoming generations, those who are taught to hold cemeteries at an arm’s length?

Someone once said that with low cost cremation winning out against the increasing expense of interment, perhaps these sites would be better off marked for archeological preservation. Was he right?

Where do we go from here?

And why should we care?

I don’t know the answers but I’m betting I’ll see these questions raised more frequently as this generation of elders continues to pass away.

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