A congregation in Bluffton that's struggled for years to find space to accommodate Jewish burial rites will dedicate a new cemetery this week.
Sauls Funeral Home agreed in 2008 to set aside 580 grave sites for members of Temple Oseh Shalom at its cemetery off Simmonsville Road.
On Monday, the congregation of more than 500 will gather to dedicate a memorial marking the entrance to the cemetery. The congregation, formed six years ago, meets at the Lowcountry Presbyterian Church
Previously, congregation members had to find space at cemeteries owned by other Jewish congregations in Beaufort and Savannah or on Hilton Head Island, or have remains shipped to hometowns for burial, said Jackie Katz, president of the temple's board of directors. That made it difficult for some of the congregation's members to observe Jewish rites, which call for burial within 24 hours, or as soon as possible, said Jerry Steinberg, chairman of the temple's cemetery committee.
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"Most congregations in other parts of the country have a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery that they own," Steinberg said. "But we're a young congregation of mostly retirees who moved into the Lowcountry and founded their own place of worship."
As if burying a loved one was not stressful enough, finding a burial place added to the grief, Steinberg said.
"Trying to find a consecrated Jewish burial plot created many problems, because people were not members of those congregations," he said. "Making those accommodations were often expensive, and difficult to find space for them."
Having a dedicated cemetery "removes a large concern" for the area's Jewish community, Steinberg said.
"Now, everyone in our congregation that does not want to have their remains shipped anywhere, can have a resting place here where friends and family can visit," he said. "It takes worry away from our congregation members about making their final arrangements. There's always a place for them."
About 300 of the plots will be reserved for members who observe conservative and orthodox Jewish traditions, where only Jews may be buried and no cremations are allowed, Steinberg said. The remaining grave sites will be reserved for those who observe Reform Judaism traditions, which allow cremations and burials of non-Jewish family members, he said.
The dedication coincides with the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at sunset today .
"Having a space consecrated by prayer and so dedicated is important for every Jewish community, and it's fitting that its dedication occur during one of Judaism's High Holy Days," Rabbi Steven Kirschner said.
Rosh Hashanah is referred to as the "day of judgment," where three books of account are opened and the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class are recorded, Kirschner said.
The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the "book of life," and they are sealed "to live."
The intermediate class is allowed a respite of 10 days, until Yom Kippur -- the Jewish Day of Atonement -- to reflect, repent and become righteous.
"It's a reminder for us to be humble and stay penitent," Kirschner said of the cemetery dedication.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead