Citing failure to meet Jewish veterans’ burial needs, Moskowitz seeks improvement from federal agency

U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz wants the Veterans Administration to ensure burials at VA cemeteries are conducted in accordance with Jewish law, after hearing concerns about the agency’s practices from South Florida families.

Moskowitz, a Broward/Palm Beach county Democrat, was joined by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami-Dade/Collier county Republican, in citing three issues — wait times, the length of time allowed for a ceremony, and the burial process itself — in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough.

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“Many Jewish religious leaders have great admiration for the Veterans Administration’s dedication to burying veterans with respect and dignity that is consistent with Jewish values, customs and laws. Unfortunately, while these traditions are recognized and valued, there are still several critical issues that should be addressed,” the congressmen wrote.

Details, from the congressional letter:

Wait times — “It is considered disrespectful for deceased to lie in wait for burial. Burial is conducted at the earliest opportunity possible. There is concern that many Jewish veterans have two-plus weeks elapsed between time of death and burial ceremony.”

Ceremony length — A burial time slot lasts from 15 to 20 minutes, including honor guard and flag presentation.

“The remaining seven and a half to 10 minutes is left for the family to decide how to conduct the service, share memories, reflections and condolences. Sadly, there have been many scenarios where there is not enough time to do the entire burial ceremony properly due to the backlog of burials, the committal shelters must be cleared immediately in time for the next service. There should not be any scenario where putting a loved one to rest for the final time should be rushed. Family members should be able to spend the time needed to properly say goodbye.”

Burial completion — “One of the greatest signs of respect for the deceased is for the community members and loved ones to actively fill the grave by hand, using a spade. It is truly the final farewell to the deceased. In VA cemeteries, loved ones have no part in completing the burial. It is done by hired workers and machinery. This process is sacred for the Jewish community and a key part of the entire process.”

Moskowitz and Diaz-Balart wrote that the issues “must be addressed because these are pivotal to Jewish burial, the same way that the VA honors its veterans with very specific rituals. The VA should allow and honor Jewish Veterans who pass away with the customs and practices that have been in place for thousands of years and coincide with the customs who have risked their lives to serve our great nation.”

Moskowitz cited the case of Barry Landsberg, whose family contacted his office for help in securing a proper funeral. Landsberg died on March 23, and was buried at the South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth.

Originally from Brooklyn, he worked as a New York City Transit Police officer until about 1990, when he and his wife moved to Asheville, N.C. They moved to Boca Raton 18 years ago and lived at the Century Village condominium community west of Boca Raton. Public records show Landsberg was 85.

An obituary on the website of the New York City Retired Transit Police Officers’ Association said a memorial service took place March 27 at Temple Beth Shalom in Century Village.

Moskowitz’s office contacted the cemetery after a rabbi raised a concern about Landsberg’s burial, and it was able to make “some accommodations, but not all the accommodations in accordance with Jewish burial practice,” his press secretary said via email.

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“Barry was a patriot who loved his country and was proud of his Jewish faith. When we buried him, it was only proper that we recognized both of these facts. However, the accommodations given to Jewish veterans just do not do justice to the heroes we’re trying to honor,” his wife, Evelyn Landsberg, said in a statement provided by Moskowitz’s office.

“Burying a loved one is already difficult enough. The last thing families need are unbendable rules that conflict with our faith. After 61 years of marriage, I wanted to honor Barry’s wishes to be buried at the VA cemetery with Jewish burial rites,” she said.

Ken Greenberg, national executive director of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, said his organization’s South Florida and state leaders aren’t aware of an issue with a Jewish veteran who couldn’t be buried fast enough in South Florida.

Les Melnyk, chief of public affairs at the National Cemetery Administration, said the agency strives to accommodate families’ religious needs, including trying to find a next-day interment. In some cases, if every available time is already booked at a national cemetery, the system will offer a location at another national cemetery.

He said complaints about an inability to do so are exceedingly rare. He said he was unable to discuss a specific case without a signed release from a person’s family.

“We’re well experienced in meeting the religious needs of families as they express them to us,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to make it right for the family.”

Anthony Man can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @browardpolitics and on Post.news/@browardpolitics.


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