Pioneering Interfaith Burial — Marsha Zinberg
Almost twenty years ago, Rabbi Dolgin had nearly identical conversations with three different Temple members within a six-month period. In each case, the issue concerned an interfaith couple whom circumstances had compelled to contemplate burial arrangements. In each case, the couple wished to be interred together, but the current rules for burial in a Jewish cemetery would not permit such an arrangement.
Rabbi Dolgin was profoundly uncomfortable with his inability to assist these congregants and brought his concerns to Temple’s Cemetery Committee. A meeting was set for our then-Temple president, Steve Morrison, Paul Yanover, the chair of the Cemetery Committee, and Rabbi Dolgin to meet with members of the Toronto Hebrew Memorial Park Rules Committee, who were open to exploring what could be done to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, a survey of member organizations did not indicate a need for a dedicated area for interfaith burial in a Jewish cemetery, and after exhausting other possible avenues for partnership in the venture, it became clear that Temple Sinai, feeling strongly that affiliated interfaith couples ought to have the option to be remembered in a Jewish communal framework if they so desired, would forge ahead on its own.
From the inception of the idea that Temple Sinai look into purchasing dedicated cemetery property for interfaith burial, through the identification of a potential site at Lambton cemetery, the eventual purchase of the section, Temple Sinai’s registration as a cemetery owner, the creation of by-laws and the proper licensing being finalized, almost a decade elapsed.
Temple Sinai’s visionary leadership resulted in our synagogue being the first in our community to offer interfaith burials at Roselawn Lambton cemetery on Royal York Road. We have also made this type of burial available to other synagogues who accept our values and will abide by our bylaws. A number of long-time members have been grateful to be afforded this burial option, and in the intervening years, several active members have joined Temple Sinai because they knew that this option would be available to them.
It is likely true that many people are concerned about issues surrounding death but are unwilling to talk about them. We can be proud that Temple Sinai not only initiated but greatly enriched this vital community conversation.