No place to bury teen bomb victim
National/World News : Tuesday, August 05, 1997
No place to bury teen bomb victim
by John Daniszewski
Los Angeles Times
JERUSALEM - In a strange and sorrowful postscript to last week's
twin suicide bombings here, the parents of 15-year-old victim Grigory
Pesahovic stood helpless in a cemetery, unable to find a place to bury
their son last week.
"Give me a spade; I'll bury him alone - I don't care where,"
declared the boy's father, Yevgeny, standing by the coffin and holding
onto his weeping former wife, according to a detailed account of the
family's ordeal published in the newspaper Maariv.
In death, "Grisha" was turned away first from a Jewish cemetery
because he wasn't deemed Jewish enough, and then from a Greek Orthodox
plot in the cemetery on the Mount of Olives because the family wouldn't
allow Christian prayers over him.
After an hourlong standoff, the boy's parents, pallbearers and a
knot of mourners had no choice but to take Grisha's body back down the
hill to the waiting hearse.
The remains lay in a hospital refrigerator over the Jewish Sabbath
until, through the intervention of a Cabinet minister and special pleas
to the Religious Affairs Ministry, a place was found Sunday in a section
of Jerusalem's municipal Har Hamenuhot cemetery set aside for members of
the Bahai faith, which does not require a religious burial.
The chaos surrounding the burial demonstrated the far-reaching
effects of unyielding religious beliefs here. "It was an absurd, tragic
spectacle," said Yuli Edelstein, the government minister for immigrants.
After hearing of the family's unfolding predicament on the radio
news Friday, Edelstein made frantic calls on his cellular telephone to
try to find a cemetery that would take the boy.
"Imagine how a minister of the state of Israel must feel when he has
to sit in his car in a parking lot, while the corpse of a terror victim
is being held in the hospital, and you have to find someone who will do
you a favor and bury the body," Edelstein recounted.
The problem was that Grisha, who had immigrated to Israel from
Russia with his mother, Olga, two years ago, was a descendant of a mixed
marriage. His maternal grandfather had married a non-Jew in the former
Although his mother and father both considered themselves Jewish,
had a Jewish surname, had lived as Jews in Russia and had made the
pilgrimage to Israel, under Jewish law Grisha was not a Jew and
therefore could not be buried with other Jews.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Religious Affairs, however, said
Grisha "wasn't a questionable Jew. There is no doubt that he wasn't
Jewish." The correct alternative, said the spokesman, Shimon Mallka,
would have been to inter the youth on a kibbutz that allows secular
But the boy's mother rejected that option because she wanted his
grave close to Jerusalem, where she lives.
While defending the current system, Mallka was not without sympathy.
"It is a painful case. The boy died in Israel and for Israel, and still
received no dignified burial," he said.
Grisha, described in news accounts as a solitary teenager who had
not had time to master Hebrew or find many friends in his adopted land,
had gone by himself to the Mahane Yehuda fruit and vegetable market last
He was in an alley when the two powerful bombs went off. Fifteen
people died, including the bombers. In a leaflet, the radical Islamic
group Hamas claimed responsibility for the worst act of terrorism in
Israel in more than a year, although some authorities have cast doubt on
the leaflet's authenticity.
Burials in Israel have long been a source of controversy. Israel's
conservative rabbinate sets strict guidelines governing who may be
buried as a Jew.
The lack of burial options became more acute in the late 1980s when
tens of thousands of Soviet Jews, many of mixed descent and not
immediately accepted as Jews, began arriving in Israel.
©Copyright 1997, The Seattle Times Company
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