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French Heat Wave Causes Deaths, Burial Delays

As France endures 100-degree temperatures, Parisian Jewish organizations have struggled to cope as unburied corpses have had to wait up to four days for burial.

Reports suggest that as many as 3,000 people have died during France’s August heat wave. Hardest hit were the elderly and those with serious medical conditions. Death rates in Paris have soared, for the city as a whole and for the capital’s 350,000-strong Jewish community.

Jacques B’Chiri, head of the burial board of the Paris Consistoire — the principal organization dealing with the religious needs of the community — said that his organization was handling about 30 burials a day, considerably more than the 10 to 15 per-day average for this time of year.

“The situation is very difficult indeed,” B’Chiri said. “We have bodies waiting days for burial, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

At the Pantin cemetery in northern Paris, the largest in the region with a sizable Jewish section, Jewish funeral directors said their companies were conducting burials every 15 minutes.

“Usually there’s at least an hour gap between funerals. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Philippe Hay, a funeral organizer for Benhamou burial services. “People call us and we tell them that they have to wait a minimum of three days.”

B’Chiri said he was particularly perturbed by the fact that, in many cases, nobody was around to comfort mourners or perform ceremonies.

“It’s August and the rabbis are all away on holiday, and they haven’t left replacements,” he said. “Outside of Paris it’s even worse. There’s nobody around in Orleans and Tours, and people are dying.”

The Consistoire may have to call rabbis back from holiday, B’Chiri said, adding, “What can you do when the Consistoire itself has practically shut down for the summer?”

The Consistoire is not the only understaffed organization. An operator at the United Jewish Social Funds, the umbrella welfare and educational organization of French Jews, said, “There’s virtually no one here.” At L’Ose Medical, one of the oldest Jewish medical institutions in Paris, a recorded message said the building was closed until August 22.

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