Cemeteries Up Ante for Sunday Burials

Jews Often Pay Hefty Surcharges, Especially in New Jersey

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published July 18, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
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If you want to be buried in New Jersey, try dying early in the week.

Jewish law requires speedy burial, but bans Saturday funerals. So a death late in the week often means a funeral on a Sunday. And in New Jersey, a Sunday funeral means extra burial fees of up to $500, even more if the ceremony takes place in the afternoon.

Loretta Weinberg
Loretta Weinberg

Not so across the Hudson River in New York, where Jewish cemeteries regulated by the state don’t charge extra on Sunday mornings. Sunday afternoon surcharges in New York often cost less than half of those in New Jersey.

“Sunday is not a holiday for Jewish people,” said Stanley Kaplan of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, which charges no additional fees. “Why should they pay more to be interred on a Sunday when it’s generally the busiest day of the week for Jews to bury their loved ones?”

Loretta Weinberg, a Democratic New Jersey state senator from Teaneck, has introduced a bill to reduce the cost of Sunday burials in the state, alongside a handful of other bills that would reform New Jersey’s loosely regulated cemetery industry. But she’s run into opposition from the state’s cemeteries, which are lobbying against the legislation.

Assemblyman Gary Schaer has tried to broker an agreement between the New Jersey Jewish community and the state’s Jewish cemeteries that he saw as an alternative to Weinberg’s bills. His effort appeared to flop on June 12, when a meeting between cemetery and communal officials ended without a deal.

Sundays is often the busiest day of the week at Jewish cemeteries. But union contracts for cemetery workers tend to provide for higher salaries on Sundays, boosting the expense of Sunday burials.

Some cemeteries around the country don’t pass on those extra Sunday costs to mourners.

According to Richard Fishman, director of the New York Department of State Division of Cemeteries, Jewish cemeteries under his jurisdiction don’t charge Sunday fees in the morning. In the afternoon, they can levy a surcharge of up to $162 per hour. In New Jersey, the fees are far higher. At a dozen New Jersey cemeteries surveyed by the Forward, the base Sunday surcharge ranges from nothing to $500. The cemeteries charge overtime fees in the afternoon, ranging from $150 per hour to $750 per hour.


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