Lawsuit Filed to Remove Black Body From Jewish Cemetery

A Connecticut woman alleges that the congregation broke a non-Jew burial rule.

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Associated Press

A Connecticut woman has filed a lawsuit demanding the removal of the body of a black woman from a Jewish cemetery.

The lawsuit, filed by Maria Balaban, a 72-year-old white member of Congregation Ahavath Achim, alleges that the congregation broke its own rules when a 47-year-old Jamaican-born woman named Juliet Steer was allowed to be buried in an interfaith section of the cemetery.

Steer, who died of cancer in 2010, asked to be buried there because she thought it was peaceful. A representative from the congregation claims that Balaban was motivated by race. Her lawyer denies allegations that she is racist, pointing to her past work as a social worker. 

The congregation claims that Balaban, who serves on the its board of directors, initially agreed to have a section set aside in the cemetery for interfaith burials but changed her mind after Steer was buried there. Congregation rules say that plots can be bought by anybody with money, regardless of faith or color. 

"My client is very upset by this all," George Purtill, the congregation’s lawyer, told the Associated Press. "They created the [interfaith cemetery] to be open, compassionate and caring and feel chagrined that their goodwill towards others is being rewarded with this costly litigation."

Traditional Jewish laws prohibit burial of non-Jews in a Jewish cemetery, said David Berger, dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies of Yeshiva University in New York City.

"Jews should be buried with other Jews. There is such an expectation," Berger told the AP. But Berger also added that interfaith marriages are increasing, and so are plots for non-Jews in Jewish cemeteries.

A court hearing is planned for Feb. 29.

Read more at ABC News.

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