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Jewish Journal

Billboard mystery ends with interfaith twist

by Adam Wills

November 16, 2006 | 7:00 pm

Mysterious Jewish-themed billboard went up after the High Holidays

Mysterious Jewish-themed billboard went up after the High Holidays

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.

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."

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.
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