On Sunday, August 4, Linda and Avi Laub hosted a breakfast, tastefully catered by Coby Adler and Super Duper Bagels of Livingston, to benefit NASCK, the National Association of Chevra Kadisha.
Nearly 100 members of the West Orange and surrounding communities used the opportunity to support NASCK’s work.
NASCK, founded and led by Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, deals with all issues of kavod hamet, the honor and dignity accorded to those who have passed away. NASCK is the most authoritative source for information on end of life, and Rabbi Zohn and his staff field daily calls from rabbanim, chevros kadisha, community leaders, and individuals seeking guidance.
Where once it was a NASCK mission to ensure that Jewish funerals include a taharah, the traditional cleaning of the body of the deceased, today the most serious issue NASCK faces is cremation. In the last 30 years or so, cremation among American Jews went from being nearly unheard of to a national rate of 40%, and is still rising rapidly, r”l. Rabbi Zohn’s presentation described this disturbing explosion in cremation rates, as well as NASCK’s initiatives to combat it.
In many cases, the primary reason people are opting for cremation is lack of funds. This is particularly true in South Florida, which is home to the largest population of elderly Jews in the country. Cremation has become so acceptable in South Florida today that we even find Holocaust survivors consigned to the crematorium.
Another force driving cremation is the increased interest in preserving the environment. Rabbi Zohn noted that people choose cremation because they believe it to be “greener” than burial. The fact is that cremation has a far larger carbon footprint than traditional Jewish burial.
To effect change in the area where it can make the greatest difference, NASCK has founded a non-profit, certified-green cemetery near Boca Raton, Florida. The mission of the South Florida Jewish Cemetery is to provide dignified halachic burial for all Jews, regardless of means or affiliation. In addition, it serves as a model of how Jewish burial is both an ecologically responsible choice and a reasonably priced option.
Of the 50 burials conducted since the cemetery opened in January of this year, 20 were of indigent Jews who could not afford burial and would likely have been cremated. In addition to these metei mitzvah, the great majority of those who purchased burial plots at the cemetery had walked in with a preference for cremation. The reasonable cost of burial at South Florida Jewish Cemetery, as well as their heightened appreciation for the greater respect offered by burial, convinced them to elect halachic burial for themselves and their loved ones.
Moreover, the existence of the cemetery has influenced the surrounding area, encouraging other Florida cemeteries to take care of members of their community who cannot afford the standard cost of burial.
While the cemetery is highly successful in its impact, it requires substantial support from the public to pay the capital costs for the grounds and the proposed buildings. Once the cemetery is financially stable it will be able to put all proceeds toward other such projects, education and outreach, allowing it to extend its influence even further.
“Rabbi Zohn and NASCK are literally one of a kind,” Avi said. “They represent the epitome of chesed shel emet and Ahavat Yisrael. Along with all of NASCK’s other projects, the South Florida Cemetery’s mission and work are off-the-charts unique and extremely critical in today’s times. Linda and I feel so honored and fortunate that we are able to be a part of the holy work of such a special organization.”
For information about NASCK and how to support it, please visit www.nasck.org or call 718 847-6280.
By JLNJ Staff