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 Soviet Union.

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 burials.

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 Wednesday.

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
Original Story

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