In most of the United States, Jewish community institutions are slowly changing their policies to be more welcoming toward interfaith families. Jewish funeral homes and burial associations have begun to recognize that they cannot fulfill their mission, which is to honor the dead and comfort mourners, without reaching out to interfaith families. In some larger Jewish communities, Jewish cemeteries have accommodated both interfaith families, and the traditional practice of excluding non-Jews from Jewish cemeteries, by setting aside a section for plots where interfaith couples can be buried side by side. Many Jewish cemeteries have not made such a provision, and will not allow the members of an interfaith couple to be buried side by side.
Some synagogues purchase plots for their congregants, so if you are a member of a synagogue, your first call in arranging your funerals may be to your rabbi to find out how the congregation is accommodating interfaith families. You can also check the websites of Jewish cemeteries in your area and phone Jewish funeral homes for information.
It is worthwhile for interfaith couples to discuss end of life issues and to ascertain what kinds of funeral arrangements they would like and what burial options are available to them. If you are not Jewish and your partner is, and you want to have rituals from your own religion at the time of death but also to be buried side-by-side, it may be a good option to be buried in a municipal cemetery. The Jewish partner can still be buried with Jewish ritual, as the individual grave of a Jew is still considered consecrated ground. Consult a rabbi to get more expert advice on this issue.
The principles that govern how Jews deal with death can sometimes be in competition. Religious Jews try to honor the divine image in the human being by treating the dead person's body with respect. Jews also want to fulfill the commandment to comfort mourners. Mourners, whether Jewish or not, want to honor the wishes of people who are close to them about death and burial, but our values may be in conflict. What if a Jewish parent wants a Jewish child to cremate him? Or if the child is a secular humanist and the parent is a religious Christian, or the child is Jewish and the parent is an atheist, then what should the funeral look like?
The goal is always to communicate and reach compromises between the desires of the dying or dead person and those of the people who will be mourning them. In this way we do our best to make sure that the end of life is a meaningful experience of compassion and respect.
The Guide to Death and Mourning for Interfaith Families is also available as a downloadable PDF and Word document.