How do Jews dispose of materials containing the name of G-d? Shaimot (articles with G-d’s name) are kept in a safe, special place in the synagogue or community called a Genizah. Once a ‘critical mass’ of material accumulates, a grave is opened in a Jewish cemetery and the sifrei kodesh (holy books), parchments, tefillin that have become pasul (unfit for use), and even Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) are buried with kavod (respect) and dignity.
Students of Congregation Beth El’s Religious School, their parents, and a number of other congregants gathered at Holly Lawn Cemetery in Suffolk on a clear, chilly Sunday morning in April to do just what was needed: bury their accumulated shaimot with dignity. Beth El member Norman Soroko handled the arrangements with Altmeyer Funeral Home and a double grave was opened and prepared for the brief ceremony.
There are a number of differences between the ceremony for burying books and the ceremony for burying a person, such as participants do not help shovel dirt or need to remain present for the filling of the grave. As attendees gathered around the open graves, Rabbi Jeffrey Arnowitz described the reason for the Genizah and the ‘why’ of what was about to happen. Following his explanation, attendees participated in a virtual ‘bucket brigade’ to load the grave with the materials to be buried, which were many, as this was Beth El’s first Genizah burial ceremony in more than 17 years. It was a wonderful learning opportunity and not something that will likely take place again soon.
by Sharon Wasserburg