When it comes to a Jewish burial, things move quickly. When a person dies, the family or community try to bury the person the same day so the neshama can rest peacefully as soon as possible.
Death is never something that can be predicted — obviously. While sometimes a person is sick and the family knows where things are headed, the actual day and time of death is up to no one else but, you know, God.
In Airmont, New York last week, the Orthodox Jewish community was mourning the loss of Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Twersky — a prominent United States Hasidic leader whose death was “mourned by thousands,” the Har Shalom cemetery noted. “His funeral was a once-in-a-hundred-year event.”
While he was sick, and preparations for a funeral did begin well ahead of time, the actual day and time was of course not known until the actual event occurred. Because of the amount of people that wanted to mourn the loss, streets needed to be closed down and traffic redirected.
The Jewish community and Har Shalom cemetery worked with the Town of Ramapo police department in order to make this happen.
Understandably, Chestnut Ridge residents (a nearby village) were irritated by the traffic changes calling it an “unmitigated disaster.”
In a letter, the village’s attorney, Alek Shah, said that the cemetery didn’t give any sort of advanced notice of the funeral. “Due to the foregoing failures of Har Shalom, hundreds of Chestnut Ridge residents were unable to return to their own homes or make their appointments for hours because major thoroughfares and arteries in Chestnut Ridge were closed due to the Grand Rabbi’s funeral,” he wrote.
He requested in the letter that any future road closures should only be done with at least six months notice to the residents of the town. “If there is any anticipated funeral or related procession or event such that Har Shalom orchestrates a plan ahead of time, the notice must be provided at least six months in advance and Chestnut Ridge officials consulted so proper traffic plan arrangements can be made to minimize adverse impact on Chestnut Ridge residents,” he wrote.
Of course, it’s a ridiculous request. No one but God can predict a death days in advance let alone six months. Some Orthodox residents went on social media saying that Jewish law prohibited attempts to predict the future.
On both sides, it’s frustrating. No one wants road closures, traffic deterrents and the inability to get to where they need to go. On the other side, all proper procedures were followed and the cemetery itself has no control over which roads law enforcement decides to shut down.
Har Shalom did apologize for the inconvenience and promised to communicate with the mayor of Chestnut Ridge in the future in case a similar incident was set to occur.
May it be a conflict that results only in more peace between the communities moving forward.