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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Another bill in Weinberg’s package would bar cemeteries from charging “an additional fee” for Sunday burials. The bill does allow cemeteries to pass on “actual or additional increased costs” for Sunday burials to consumers. Blacksberg said that he objected to the Weinberg bill because of his concerns over what the state would consider actual increased costs.

Meanwhile, Schaer is pushing for an agreement between the cemeteries and the Jewish community, ONE that he hoped would obviate the need for legislation.

“If we can do this without the heavy hand of government, I think that we all agree that that’s the best thing to do,” Schaer said.

The agreement would have committed cemeteries to provide burials on secular holidays and to allow for evening burials, among other things. It would have committed the signatories to support legislation allowing cemeteries to sell gravestones, which is now barred under New Jersey law.

The agreement would also have created a communal grievance committee that would have investigated complaints about cemeteries. A purely voluntary body, it would have had no enforcement power.

Schaer, the Passaic Democrat who pushed the agreement, received a donation of $500 in April from a political action committee affiliated with the Association of Independent Cemeteries, a trade group. Asked about the donation, Schaer noted that he had raised nearly $700,000 in the last election cycle.

“To suggest that a donation of $500 is going to prejudice my actions, I think would be foolish from anyone’s analysis,” Schaer said.

Last summer, Cedar Park cemetery and the Association of Independent Cemeteries’ PAC each made $500 in political donations to Schaer, according to state filings.

Shaer’s proposed agreement appeared to fall through at a June 12 meeting among the legislators, New Jersey Jewish communal officials and representatives of four New Jersey cemeteries, including Blacksberg and an official from Cedar Park. Cemetery officials declined to sign the document, citing a need for approval from their boards. Amid frustration, legislators and Jewish communal representatives asked the cemetery officials to present their own proposal. The cemeteries are expected to present some sort of draft agreement in late August.

Meanwhile, Weinberg is still pushing her bills, which could move forward when the legislature reconvenes in the fall.

“I do not believe that there is much that can take the place of legislation,” Weinberg told the Forward. “And I have no intention of withdrawing my legislation or not following through with it.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or r on Twitter @joshnathankazis

Additional reporting by Blair Thornburgh


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