Intermarried now buried together in Canada

regina, saskatchewan | On a patch of green land in this Canadian province, a wrought-iron gate stands at the entrance to a new cemetery, the words “Dedicated to the partnership of love and faith” inscribed on its doorway.

The Cemeteries, as the burial ground is known, is the brainchild of Noel Sandomirsky, a federal court judge who is a lifelong member of the 100-year-old Beth Jacob Synagogue and the chairman of its chevra kadishah, or burial society.

What sets the two-month-old burial ground apart is its purpose: The Cemeteries is meant for Jews wishing to be buried next to their non-Jewish spouses, something not ordinarily allowed under Jewish law.

Sandomirsky, 63, is married to a convert. In addition, Beth Jacob’s spiritual leader of eight years, the yet-to-be-ordained Jeremy Parnes, has a non-Jewish partner. In fact, most of the 700 Jews remaining in the once-thriving Regina community — roughly 400 of whom belong to the unaffiliated but largely Conservative Beth Jacob — are tolerant of interfaith relationships.

Sandomirsky recalls a vibrant, healthy Jewish population in the Regina of his youth — many young Jews met and married through the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Now, however, there are only about 15 children in the community who will attend Beth Jacob’s Hebrew school this year.

Assimilation has historically been a response to religions that “tend to excommunicate those who fall in love outside their faith,” Sandomirsky says. “That’s a high price to pay for falling in love. We should encourage these people to stay within the faith, creating a counterbalance to assimilation and the danger of losing people.”

Sandomirsky decided to apply this concept to death as well. He looked into halachah (Jewish religious law) and sought out the possibilities for such an arrangement. The Cemeteries is the result.

Separated from other Jewish burial grounds on the property by trees, shrubs and a large entrance gate, the Cemeteries comprises 42 plots in three rows of 14 each, enough to last the community for quite some time.

The odd-numbered gravesites are reserved for Jewish members of the synagogue, the even-numbered ones for non-Jews. Between each of the rows is a steel post laid into a cement block. A small, stainless-steel link chain is inserted between each post, creating an 18-inch-high barrier.

That’s not too high to impede visitors wishing to pay their respects to a deceased couple, while it does create the barrier required by Jewish law, Sandomirsky says. To the judge in him, it appears to be a fair and appropriate solution.

“After a lifetime together, the couple should have the privilege — indeed, the right — of being buried side by side,” he says.