Last week, U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., sent a letter to U.S. Veterans Affairs Sec. Denis McDonough urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to allow burials that are consistent with Jewish values, customs, and laws.
As of now, there are significant hurdles for Jewish families to get accommodations at VA cemeteries. Under Jewish law, it is considered disrespectful for the deceased to lie in wait, but some veterans are waiting more than two weeks between death and burial. Additionally, it is customary in Jewish culture for loved ones to fill the grave by hand. However, at VA cemeteries, this is done by workers and machinery, and loved ones have no part in completing the burial.
“Jewish veterans risked their lives every day for our freedom and prosperity. It’s only right that their families can have a burial service that honors them properly. I greatly admire the VA for their dedication to burying veterans with respect and dignity. However, there are critical issues that still need to be addressed so that every family can have the closure they deserve,” said Moskowitz on Thursday.
The family of Barry Landsberg contacted Moskowitz’s office seeking help in getting accommodations for Barry’s burial. Immediately, Moskowitz and his team got to work and raised this issue directly to the VA secretary.
“Barry was a patriot who loved his country and was proud of his Jewish faith. When we buried him, it was only proper that we recognized both of these facts. However, the accommodations given to Jewish veterans just do not do justice to the heroes we’re trying to honor. Burying a loved one is already difficult enough. The last thing families need are unbendable rules that conflict with our faith. After 61 years of marriage, I wanted to honor Barry’s wishes to be buried at the VA cemetery with Jewish burial rites.,” said Evelyn Landsberg.
The letter is below.
Dear Secretary McDonough,
We write to you to express our concerns with an important issue involving Jewish veterans. Many Jewish religious leaders have great admiration for the Veterans Administration’s dedication to burying veterans with respect and dignity that is consistent with Jewish values,customs, and laws. Unfortunately, while these traditions are recognized and valued, there are still several critical issues that should be addressed.
Firstly, according to Jewish law, it is considered disrespectful for deceased to lie in wait for burial. Burial is conducted at the earliest opportunity possible. There is concern that many Jewish veterans have two-plus weeks elapsed between time of death and burial ceremony.
The second issue is regarding time allotted for the funeral ceremony. Currently, a fifteen-to twenty-minute time slot is allocated for burial. Half this time is dedicated to the honor guard and flag presentation, a custom greatly appreciated by family members. The remaining seven and a half to ten minutes is left for the family to decide how to conduct the service, share memories, reflections, and condolences. Sadly, there have been many scenarios where there is not enough time to do the entire burial ceremony properly due to the backlog of burials, the committal shelters must be cleared immediately in time for the next service. There should not be any scenario where putting a loved one to rest for the final time should be rushed. Family members should be able to spend the time needed to properly say goodbye.
Lastly, one of the greatest signs of respect for the deceased is for the community members and loved ones to actively fill the grave by hand, using a spade. It is truly the final farewell to the deceased. In VA cemeteries, loved ones have no part in completing the burial. It is done by hired workers and machinery. This process is sacred for the Jewish community and a key part of the entire process.
The three issues of lie in wait times, time of order for the ceremony, and process of burial must be addressed because these are pivotal to Jewish burial, the same way that the VA honors its veterans with very specific rituals. The VA should allow and honor Jewish Veterans who pass away with the customs and practices that have been in place for thousands of years and coincide with the customs who have risked their lives to serve our great nation.
We appreciate your attention on this matter and look forward to working with the Administration to reform the ways we honor our veterans.