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Burial of Sacred Text a Time-Honored Tradition for Temple Shalom

Rabbi Joshua Lief of Temple Shalom in Wheeling hands a box of books to John Rushman, a grave digger at Jewish Memorial Park Cemetery, during Sunday’s burial of sacred texts at the cemetery. The temple’s last book burial occurred in September 1995. (Photo by Carri Graham)

TRIADELPHIA — Hundreds of Temple Shalom’s old and worn sacred books were buried in a unique ceremony Sunday at Jewish Memorial Park Cemetery.

It has been more than two decades since the last book burial ceremony commenced; occurring last in September 1995. Temple Shalom Rabbi Joshua Lief said it is a rare occurrence and is meant to honor the tradition of the texts.

“We collect up our worn out, old books, and we don’t throw them away out of respect for the tradition of learning and the sacredness of the texts themselves, especially books that have God’s name in them – prayer books, scrolls, bibles,” he said. “… These ones are no longer usable and no longer reparable either, so we’re burying them.”

Over the years, the synagogue gathers its retired and torn books in a collection known as a genizah. Once the genizah becomes full, the books are buried in the cemetery amid a special ceremony where members of the congregation are invited to participate.

“The idea is, we bury them with our own dearly departed loved ones at the cemetery,” he said.

Lief said the ceremony honors their connection to the past and appreciation to continue the tradition of Judaism in the present and future. He said the synagogue encourages all ages to attend, as it offers a chance for multiple generations to connect with the Jewish community’s past and experience the ceremony.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to come to the cemetery on a non-sad occasion and connect with our past. Here at Jewish Memorial Park, we are surrounded by generations of our temple families, and it is really meaningful to see the next generations able to carry on the tradition,” he said.

Around two dozen people gathered Sunday at the cemetery to participate in the traditional ceremony. Lief led a short sermon and attendees recited the Kaddish prayer around two open graves.

Kepner Funeral Homes aided with the event by providing the tent, chairs and opening of the graves.

“They do a lot of the Jewish funerals in our community, and so they were very gracious to help us with this,” he said.

Following the sermon, attendees helped transport more than 50 boxes filled with books from the chapel to the graves where Lief carefully handed them down into the holes. Once interred, the books were covered with a shroud and attendees were offered the chance to pick up a shovel and place a couple scoops of dirt on to the graves. Children eagerly lined up to participate in this portion of the event.

Andrew Schriber, temple president, said the ceremony is not only an important ritual but one that helps teach the community’s youth why and how the ceremony is done.

“All these kids that are here today, someday one of them will be the temple president, maybe all of them will,” he said. “It’s important for them to learn the history of the ceremony.”

The texts were buried next to the grave where the previous ceremony took place in 1995.

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