Synagogue can't bury prayer books, for now Cemetery's rule thwarts tradition

June 13, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

The members of Congregation Kol Ami just wanted to follow tradition, they said. They wanted to bury their old prayer books as part of a dedication ceremony for the section of an Annapolis cemetery they recently bought.

But cemetery managers said they couldn't do that unless they planned to spend about $1,000 to line the burial site with concrete.

"If there's no permanent outside container, a concrete box liner or vault, then the grave sinks. The earth will crush the casket and cause an unsightly appearance. You'd never be able to maintain it properly," said Jack Maynard, vice president of Hillcrest Cemetery.

The dedication will go off as planned this afternoon, said synagogue member Anton Grobani, but the books won't be buried. The cost of proper "burial" for their old prayer books is a bit high for Kol Ami, members said.

It started out simply enough. The Conservative Annapolis synagogue, founded in 1977, purchased land at the cemetery for 50 grave sites in a section with space for expansion about a year ago. Members planned to build a wooden box to bury several aged prayer books.

What they didn't know was that, under the nonsectarian cemetery's regulations, you cannot bury anything -- not even old books -- without proper "preparation" of the gravesite.

"It's to provide for the care of the cemetery," said Mr. Maynard, who added that he was "willing to accommodate in whatever they want to do, but we will not just bury a box in the ground."

"It would be destroyed in time and go back to dust," he said. "The earth would keep settling and settling."

Mr. Grobani said the synagogue doesn't object, they just "didn't know that what you bury can shift and affect the integrity of other gravesites."

Gail Kaplan Brickman, a member of the synagogue's board, said members hope eventually to raise the money to bury the prayer books.

She remembers from her childhood the emphasis on cherishing old religious books.

"I had an uncle who was a cabinetmaker in Baltimore," she said. "He bought an old synagogue that became his factory. When he went in, there were huge numbers of old prayer books. I have memories of hearing how he had to carefully preserve them until some religious group took them so they could be buried and not thrown away."

The congregation, the first Conservative synagogue in Annapolis, has grown from its founding 20 families to more than 100. It recently completed a new building on the city's outskirts.

As Kol Ami consecrates its cemetery plot, the congregation also celebrates the synagogue's existence, Ms. Brickman said.

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