David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Living in America, Buried in Israel

When my father died nearly 40 years ago my mother, brother and I didn’t spend much time considering where he should be buried. Israel was a clear choice. Though my father did not give any explicit instruction our family was naturally Israeli and so our decision was straightforward. My father was one of the first to ‘open’ the new Eretz Hachaim cemetary in Beit Shemesh.

When my father in law died 17 years ago our family was conflicted. He too had not left clear instruction yet we understood that is where he would have wanted to be.
Har Hamenchot is where we visit him.

Since the Shoah there is a decades old debate amongst families in the Diaspora of choosing burial in their home area where children could more easily visit or in Israel where children may come less frequently.

This is a deeply personal issue having as much to do with family preferences, number of children invovled in making the decision as do the finances. A burial in Israel especially in Har Hamenuchot or Har Hazesim can be very costly tens of thousands of dollars if you haven’t previously purchased karka, a burial plot.

A couple with several married children may be scattered in several cities and even several countries. Often this decision must be made under duress and in a matter of just a few hours. Burial waits for no Jew a bedrock of our religion. How then to make such an important, difficult and permanent choice?

Adding to the tension if you choose to go to Israel is locating and negotiating the purchase of a plot close to other family members if they are already buried there.

I know a family where the husband/father is buried in Israel and wife/mother is buried in New York. When he died his wife and children honored his request to be buried in Israel. Seeing how difficult it was for her children to visit him there she decided years later she prefered burial in New York to make herself more accessible after death.

It’s a good practice not to count other peoples money. We can’t question a family’s priorities and if visiting a deceased parent buried in Israel can be their a priori spending.

Let me ask a very uncomfortable question.
Do you have a parent who passed away?

Are they buried locally less than a 90 minute drive. How often do you visit their grave?

Do you go once a year on the day of their yahrtzeit, anniversary of their death or even a second time on the eve of Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur.

I’m a strong proponent of burial in Israel whenever feasible for several reasons.

Included herein is that Israel is our homeland, techiyas hamesim will take place the world over and as explained in Kaballah all souls will ‘travel’ to Eretz Yisrael when the departed souls will rise and the Bet Hamikdash will be rebuilt.

Burial in Israel has an inherent advantage.

Our souls avoid transversing oceans, mountains and valleys as we Jews make our way to the final destination the Third and Eternal Temple. Whether our resting place be in the holy city of Teveria or Tzfat, the seaside resort of Netanya, a family section in Bet Shemesh, the mountainous Har Hamenuchot or laying in the oldest cemetery dating back to biblical days in Har Hazesim it remains Israel. The birthplace of our first fathers. The future eternal resting place of all Jewish souls.

Burial in Israel may constitute the ‘Law of the Ultimate Return.’

I know many people including close family members and Roshei Hayeshiva laying in Elmont and Wellwood, New York or in New Jersey. These are all important resting places.
No one can second guess a family decision to bury their relative anywhere they choose.
And paying respect to your deceased parents visiting them twice a year in New York vs once a year or two in Israel can be more meaningful.

I’m just saying Israel is Israel.
When was the last time a person who died in Israel requested burial in New York?

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.