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PAGE 18A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 3, 2009 Burying the last taboo By Stewart Ain New York Jewish Week Boca Raton, Fla. Sandy Yacker of Boca Raton, whose friend's husband hal been sick for 10 years, hung up the phone after learning that he had died the previous night. "She's having him cre- mated," Yacker said matter- of-factly of the widow's deci- sion, in a conversation with a reporter moments later." The family is in Chicago and they have just a few relatives here." "My mother was cremated; that was her wish," she con- tinued." She was in a nursing home in North Miami Beach and made all the arrange- ments herself.... Howie [her husband] says he too wants to be cremated.... I grew up Con- servative and being taught cremation was against the Jewish religion. I was a little shocked when my mother did it." From birth to marriage to death, taboos that once helped define--and unify and preserve--the Jewish community are falling away. The taboo against cremation may be next. Not circumcising a male Jewish child was, not very long ago, almost unheard of. Not today. Marrying out of the faith, or marrying a member of the same sex were once severely frowned upon. Not anymore. And now with the recession. and with families spread out all over the country, more and more Jews are opting for cremation, which costs only a fraction of an in-ground burial. Steven Fischman, the own- er of Sinai Memorial Chapels in nearby Delray Beach. said that in the last five months 35 percent of his business has involved Jewish crema- tions up from nearly 30 percent previously. "Money is part of it. but the other part is that people lose their traditional roots when they move to Florida and never regain them here," he said." They leave their synagogue and neighborhood funeral director and every- thing here is simplifed. As they get older they don't have as many friends left and they don't want their kids to have to worry about visiting their grave.Andwhy spend $10.000 when the cost of a cremation with a memorial service is $2,500 $1,295 without the service." Yacker said her mother, an only child, told her that she wanted to be cremated because "she didn't want me to have any tsuris with main- taining a stone and gravesite. My grandfather is buried in Fort Lee and we never get to New Jersey to visit or to say a prayer [at his grave]. I can't see how they are maintaining the grave, and I have guilt about that." Her mother's ashes were put in an urn and placed in a niche at a local cemetery. Yacker then invited friends and relatives to her home. where a rabbi her mother had met conducted a service with her mother's picture in the room. "I have heard more about cremations in the last eight years than I ever did in my life," said Yacker, 70. "A lot of that is because of cost .... I might decide myself to do it. I don't want my children to have that problem ]burial costs] either. I just want them to have good memories." Some of the hype crema- tions receive is from ads here that read: "Cremation under rabbinic supervision" and "Jewish cremation?" Fischman said he placed those ads because non-Jewish funeral homes and crema- tory societies were attracting many Jews. "We abide by all the tradi- tions, andwe have two Reform rabbis who are almost on staff whowill officiate at cremation services," he said, referring to the services that use a rented casket and are held before cre- mation, and to services held after cremation. "There are also Conservative rabbis who officiate at cremation services every day," he said, adding that only Orthodox rabbis refuse. Rabbi David Steinhardt. senior rabbi of B'nai Torah Congregation here. said that in his 16 years at the Conser- vative synagogue only one congregant has asked him to officiate at a funeral in which the deceased was cremated. He declined, but later con- ducted a memorial service. The rabbi said that only an estimated 8 to 14 percent of the Jewish population in South Florida are affiliated with synagogues and that he believes those opting for cre- mations are not among them. A possible exception is Temple Beth E1 of Boca Raton, a Reform congregation that bills itself as the only syna- gogue in the country with a mausoleum on its grounds. Its spokeswoman, Sally Ling, said that only 3 percent of those buying space in the mausoleum were not prior members of the 1,300-family congregation. And JTA earlier this month quoted Rabbi Stephen Pearce of San Francisco's Reform Congregation Emanu-El as saying that more than 50 percent of the funerals in his congregation involve cremation. The news agency also reported that a national organization of Jewish burial societies is trying to promote traditional in-ground burial among liberal Jews. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Juda- ism. the congregational arm of the Reform movement. said he"wOuld be surprised if there was a growing effort in the [Reform] rabbinate to discourage cremation. At the same time, I have not seen anyone encouraging it." He pointed out that al- though the Central Confer- ence of American Rabbis, the Reform movement's rabbini- cal arm. has over the years told its members not to refuse of- ficiating at funerals for people who are cremated, a more recent decision "discourages the choice of cremation in favor of in-ground burial." Nevertheless. Rabbi Yoffie stressed, he believes an "over- whelming" numberofReform rabbis would officiate at the funeral of a cremated person. In addition to cost. Rabbi Yoffie said families cite en- vironmental reasons for cremation. "The notion of taking up cemetery space tends to be something that is on their minds and may be one reason for the increase" in cremations, he said. But Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, founding director of the Na- tional Association of Chevra Kadisha in Queens. pointed out that the"environmentalist movement is today discour- aging cremations because the heat and carbon that is released by cremation" con- tributes to global warming. "Environmentalists are encouraging green burial ceremonies and the use of bamboo caskets that don't use valuable wood, which is per- fect for Jewish law." he added. Rabbi Zohn said the "gen- erally accepted figure [for Jewish cremations] in New York is over 20 percent." But he pointed out that the figure is actually higher because "a large number of Jewish people don't go to Jewish funeral homes" for cremation. And he said that just as the rest of the nation gravitates towards cremations the national figure is nearly 40 percent with projections that it will reach 50 percent by 2025--Jewish cremations are also expected to increase. Thomas Loughran, general manager of Gutterman's. a funeral home in Woodbury, L.I., said that five years ago he handled about five crema- tions a year. Now, he said, the number is about 40. "It's driven by the fact that these people choose not to have a service and this is the easiest way they can dispose of a human being," he said. "Probably 80 percent take the remains home. Some scatter the ashes." Loughran said his funeral home charges about $2,500 for a cremation. Another reason for the increase in cremations is that "the further we get from the Holocaust, the less the word crematorium is a stigma to the Jewish community," ac- cording to Keith Kronish. general manger of Gutterman Warheit Memorial Chapel in Boca Raton. He suggested also that the increase "may have some- thing to do with the rise in interfaith marriage--more and more Jews are becoming assimilated into a universe that is not Jewish" and where there is growing acceptance of cremation. Efrem Goldberg, a Modern Orthodox rabbi at the Boca Raton Synagogue, said he has noticed that "people's values become flexible because of the economy. If you asked them objectively if they believed in cremation, they would say no. But if they or their children can't afford [a burial], they do [cremation]." Rabbi David Englander of B'nai Torah Congregation here said cremation is of such concern that he spoke about it during the High Holy Days. He said he believes it is'something we are going to face more and more because Jewish practice is influenced by the society in which it finds itself. "We have to figure out how to best respond to it. We want to be there for families and yet... My practice is to say I'm sorry for your loss but I won't officiate at a service that is directly connected to a cremation." Asked his answer to those who prefer cremations, Rabbi Zohn said: "The key is the belief in the soul and an af- terlife. If you do not believe in it. cremation is acceptable. But if you believe in eternity and resurrection, it is more difficult because cremation is the destruction of everything living." But Fischman. who said he plans to be cremated him- self. questioned that. saying: "Who's to say that cremation destroys itall? My soul lives on. Resurrection can be without the body." Rabbi Zohn observed that cremation is "another way of eroding the family struc- ture because many families visit the graves of parents and grandparents on holidays and yahrzeits. If they are not buried, that is lost .... To see a casket lowered and know it contains the body of a loved one is a closure you don't have with a niche." Temple Beth-El's Ling said loved ones often visit the temple's mausoleum the same as they would a gravesite.And she said they can take rocks from a container at the en- trance and place them on the ground in front of their loved one's niche [for urns] and crypt [for coffins], just as they place stones on headstones at graves to mark their visit. Although the synagogue's rabbi. Daniel Levin. was in Israel and could not be reached for comment, Ling provided a pamphlet given to congregants interested in the mausoleum and cremation. "Traditionally," it said, "Jewish custom frowned on cremation .... Judaism also teaches the idea of 'from dust we are formed and to dust we will return.'" Fischman insisted that his outreach to those who would opt for cremation is"ali consumer driven." "It is not something we're pushing," he said. "I'm just catering to those who have been shunned, I respect their wishes. I'm reaching out to themand say- ing.., just because they want cremation does not mean they are not Jewish." Reprinted with permission from the New York Jewish Week, Author calls baseball stance on steroids hypocritical By Ron Kaplan New Jersey Jewish News The cover of "Cooper- stown Confidential: Heroes. Rogues, and The Inside Story of The Baseball Hall of Fame" (Bloomsbury) fea- tures four circa 1920 players with their heads cropped off. How appropriate, since a lot of what Zev Chafets has to say turns conventional wisdom on its head. Chafets, the founding managing editor of the Je- rusalem Report and a former columnist for the New York Daily News, has written several books on Middle East politics as well as a handful of novels. Now he turns his analytic mind to one of his first loves. "I lived in Israel for 35 years, where I was very deprived of baseball," said Chafets in a telephone in- terview with the New Jersey Jewish News. After return- ing to the United States, he took a trip to Cooperstown, N.Y. "I liked it, especially because I was there with my son," he said. "I was proud of it as an institution, as Zev Chafets something I could pass on [to him]." In a cynical, post-Wa- tergate America, Chafets said the Hall was one of the few iconic institutions that managed to maintain its luster. "People still talk about making pilgrimages to it and being enshrined and immortalized there," he said. Living in Jerusalem, he knew that all shrines have their secrets. "I wanted to know what was behind the curtain." He discovered that not everyone with a plaque in Cooperstown is the Jack Armstrong type. Some were vicious racists: others were alcoholics or had other character flaws. A new cloud hangs over the current generation of ballplayers, but Chafets doesn't understand what all the hand-wringing is about. "What we have learned now is that almost all of the great players of our era have used steroids" and other performance-enhancing drugs, he said. Steroids have been around for dozens of years, although not the muscle-repairing anabolic variety, which have only been banned sincethe mid- 1990s. Sandy Koufax took corticosteroids in the form of cortisone shots to ease the pain in his pitching arm; he retired at the age of 30 rather than risk permanent damage. Unlike the majority of journalists, Chafets is not especially bothered by the use of PEDs. His philosophy in a nutshell: If everyone uses them pitchers and fielders as well as slug- gers then no one has an advantage. "I think we're going to have to either give up base- ball or give up the hypoc- risy and the phoniness and pretending that steroids are an evil thing... They are the march of science and modern life," he said, com- paring them to procedures such as tendon replacement ("Tommy John") surgeries that allow players to extend their careers. "It's crazy to imagine that athletes, of all people, are going to refrain from using whatever science makes possible for them to enhance their performance." Chafets said it is impos- sible for baseball to keep up with pharmaceutical science. "The only way to catch players afterwards is by taking blood samples and holding them and testing them as new tests become available. The small problem with that is that it's wildly unconstitutional. The Su- preme Court would never stand for such a thing and neither would the Players Union," he said. Chafet's boyhood hero growing up in Pontiac, Mich., was Tigers outfielder A1 Kaline. His great-uncle Pinchas "was a gigantic Tigers fan even though he didn't speak any English, just Yiddish," Chafets said. Because Hank Greenberg, baseball's first Jewish super- star, was a member of the team, Uncle Pinchas "was convinced that the Detroit Tigers were the Jews and the rest of the American League teams were the goyim." But even Greenberg had his foibles: "He wasn't quite the saint that he was made out to be .... He had a lot of mob connections." Among some other thought-provoking elements of particular interest to Jew- ish readers in Chafets' book: He called the Hall's snub of Marvin Miller, the first head of the players' union, a "disgrace." "Miller is one of the three people along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson who changed baseball forever and for the better," Chafets said. The sentiment is not shared by the "establishment," which has thus far kept the doors to Cooperstown closed to Miller, now 92. The reasons "'are not hard to understand. but [they're] hard to accept." Koufax admitted to a sportswriter "that he was half-high on the mound part of the time" as a result of the medications he took. Lou Boudreau tried to hide his religious identity while Johnny Kling, a catcher for the Cubs in the early 20th century, "wasn't Jewish but told everybody that he was." Ron Kaplan is the features editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was reprinted by permission.