The Shmooze

Ritzy Philly Cemetery Makes Room for Jews

By Michael Kaminer

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At least these locals won’t think, “There goes the neighborhood.” After 141 years, the ritzy, goyish West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia is inviting Jews to consider it as a final resting place. The September issue of Philadelphia magazine reports that those who plan to spend forever there — “as much of Philadelphia’s who’s who do — received a ‘Dear Lot Holder’ letter: The 141-year-old -Quaker-founded, nondenominational cemetery would be adding a section ‘to meet the burial … needs of the Jewish faith.’”

According to the cemetery’s website, “the Jewish site will accommodate 1,500 burial spaces including a significant portion for the Orthodox, traditionally among the strictest of Jewish denominations.” Philly-area Jews lack expedient funeral options, the site explains. “Since the early 1950s, when the trickle of Jews emigrating from the city to the Philadelphia suburbs became a steady stream, the Jewish community of the Main Line and its adjacent areas has had to travel some distance for traditional burials, an inconvenience at an already difficult time when Jewish custom dictates that burials occur as quickly as possible after death.”

Plans for the Semitic section had first been made public two years ago; Deborah Cassidy, West Laurel Hill’s director of sales, marketing, and family services, told Philadelphia that demand has grown. “We had a number of neighbors who wanted to be in our cemetery, but because of their faith, they felt they couldn’t,” she said.

Seventy-three of the new lots have been pre-purchased, Philadelphia noted with a wink: “Real estate like that doesn’t stick around for eternity.”


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