setting up burial arrangements
How We Set Up Our Burial Arrangements
What does even the smallest Jewish community need to function fully: a scroll for services, maybe a cheder? In 2004 the newly independent progressive community in Edinburgh with a membership of fewer than 50, with 20 or so 'activists', had to face these questions. We raised the money to buy a scroll; we set up a fortnightly cheder; but making the arrangements for Jewish burial seemed very daunting: where would we get ground; wouldn't it be expensive?
However, half a dozen of us, with no prior knowledge and therefore perhaps no consciousness of the difficulties, thought the community should and could do something as quickly as possible. The volunteer burial working group wrote, e-mailed and phoned, gathering information and advice from many quarters. In the end we managed to offer a choice of cemeteries to our members - both the City of Edinburgh Council and the private Dean Cemetery Trust were willing to allocate 25 plots, to be paid for when used, and to allocate further plots thereafter. In the end the community voted for the one that was both more beautiful and more secure.
We were fortunate that the Orthodox community already had a very good standing arrangement with a long established firm of undertakers in the city - we were able to have the same funeral 'package' with a company already experienced in Jewish funerals, and with a new non-denominational service room.
Finally, the six people on what had become the burial committee were all absolutely sure that they wanted to form a chevra kadisha (a 'holy society') and provide taharah - the ritual cleaning and preparation of the body. We still don't know how commonly this is provided by Liberal communities, although Orthodox 'holy societies' sometimes do it for progressive Jews. Taharah is an important mitzvah - because the recipient can never do anything in return. Fortunately, one of the burial committee had experience and has guided and trained the others. Using a wide of range of existing taharah 'manuals' - reform and orthodox, British and American, and with the guidance of Liberal rabbis, we have prepared a ritual and service that we hope meets both the traditional requirements and the needs of modern Liberal judaism.
When we were thinking of setting up an independent community one of the biggest obstacles in our minds was the difficulty of making burial arrangements. Like a lot of tasks, it turned out to be much easier in reality than in our imaginations. If you are in the same situation, don't let it stand in your way.
Gordon Barclay, May 2005