Stowe Debates Consecrating Cemetery for Jewish Burials

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(Host) In Stowe, a request to set aside an area of the town cemetery for Jewish burials has met with some resistance and led to a debate over the separation of church and state.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Normally, one or two members of the public might attend a meeting of the Stowe Cemetery Commission. But at the Commission’s most recent meeting, several dozen interested citizens turned out. They came to talk about a request to set aside a section of the Stowe Cemetery for Jewish burials.

Religious practice dictates that Jews must be buried in ground consecrated by a rabbi. Right now, the closest consecrated burial sites are in Burlington and Montpelier. Steve Berson is head of the Jewish Community of Greater Stowe. He says having a burial site is an important element of a true Jewish community:

(Berson) “We should be able to observe the traditions of our faith at a time of death, which in any faith is when people become generally more religious.”

(Zind) A handful of people at the cemetery commission meeting objected to the Jewish Community’s request. Stowe resident Jon Hanson told commission members that setting aside an area for Jewish burials would be bad public policy:

(Hanson) “Your religious beliefs are yours. You get to express them on your own time and your own dime. As far as our public cemetery, if you have particular religious beliefs that don’t allow you to want to get buried there, those are your religious beliefs, not the society’s. To go as far as to separate the cemetery by your religious beliefs is to me a great incursion on the concept of the separation of church and state and to me that concept is a good one.”

(Zind) But Cemetery Commissioner George Von Trapp doesn’t agree with Hanson:

(Von Trapp) “If that were the case, then it would behoove us to remove every crucifix that’s on every grave marker in the cemetery because that’s an expression of faith as well.”

(Zind) Von Trapp says Stowe should follow the example of Burlington and Montpelier and create an area of consecrated land for Jewish burials:

(VonTrapp) “My feeling from the start was that there are people who live in this community and who are part of the community for their who lives or a significant portion of their lives and then can’t be buried here because of their religious beliefs. So I think we’re in fact excluding people.”

(Zind) Von Trapp says the discussion surrounding the Jewish Community’s request has been civil. After delaying a decision at this month’s meeting, the Stowe Cemetery Commission is expected to vote on the proposal in April.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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