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Billboard Mystery Ends with Interfaith Twist

Reprinted with permission of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

Nov. 17, 2006

The mysterious billboards went up across the Los Angeles area just after the High Holidays. Each used a variation on the same theme, juxtaposing illustrations: Latkes or fries? Bagels and lox or sushi? Yarmulke or cap?

They carried no other information, and from the beginning it had the Jewish community guessing.

The first set of billboards...

Was it a new kosher deli appealing to ba'alei teshuvah? A catering outfit hoping to penetrate the interfaith market?

Try Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries.

Yes, the big reveal last week that stretched from Westwood to Westlake Village featured the name of the Sinai Temple-founded cemetery, which has locations in the Hollywood Hills and Simi Valley. And the edgy twist is that Mount Sinai is reaching out to interfaith couples.

While many Jewish cemeteries with consecrated land bury Jews only, non-Orthodox cemeteries are increasingly making arrangements to include interfaith couples and families.

Given that 47 percent of all newlywed Jews and one-third of all married Jews are intermarried, according to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey, Jewish cemeteries like Mount Sinai are marketing to interfaith couples who would otherwise turn to secular or non-Jewish burial sites.

"In my travels around this community, there were tremendous misconceptions as to what most Jewish cemeteries in Southern California, and especially Mount Sinai, would or would not do. And I felt very strongly, as does my board, that we need to set the record straight," said Len Lawrence, Mount Sinai's general manager. "This was an opportunity that we took to tell the community that the rules are different for Mount Sinai."

...and the second set.

According to Rabbi Paul J. Citrin, an L.A. native and pulpit rabbi at Reform Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, it is acceptable to bury a non-Jewish spouse in a Jewish cemetery. When Jewish cemeteries disallow burial of non-Jews, they are citing custom, not Jewish law.

The Talmud states that for the sake of peaceful relations, non-Jews can be buried in Jewish cemeteries (Gittin 61a). However, non-Jewish clergy are not allowed to officiate in a Jewish cemetery.

The Mount Sinai advertising campaign was developed six months ago by GSS Communiqations, and the revealed billboards will remain up until mid-December. Mount Sinai's Lawrence is satisfied with the buzz generated by the campaign, and he expects to see a bump in traffic on the cemetery's Web site in the next month.

Before the reveal last week, Lawrence said he heard speculation from colleagues and his own college-age sons that the billboards likely had something to do with interfaith couples.

"We think it did what it needed to do," he said.

Hebrew for "return," the way of repenting for sins in Judaism. The term is most associated with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah. Hebrew for "instruction" or "learning," a central text of Judaism, recording the rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history. It has two parts: Mishnah (redacted c. 200 CE) and Gemara (c. 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Adam Wills

Adam Wills is associate editor of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

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