The Yarkon cemetery in Petah Tikva is constructing three buildings that will house multi-tiered graves due to a lack of burial space. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.
The three structures will provide room for 35,000 graves using the "saturated burial" system, a system that includes several methods of burial which make use of vertical depth. The system will be implemented to alleviate the shortage of burial space in the center of the country for the next five years.
Each building will include four uniquely-designed levels to accord the deceased the best possible honor. Most of the additional buildings to be constructed in the future will include elevators and computerized database stations through which specific burial sites can be located. In addition, the buildings will provide complete and easy access for people who are disabled.
The estimated cost of the three buildings at the Yarkon cemetery is 190 million shekels ($49 million).
Examples of graves and an update on the construction progress were presented to members of a ministerial committee for matters relating to burial on Monday, who toured the area set aside for the project in the cemetery. Religious Affairs Minister Yakov Margi, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman were also present during the tour.
The buildings are only the first stage in a more elaborate plan that involves the construction of 17 such structures using the saturation system in the Yarkon cemetery within several years.
The buildings will ultimately house 200,000 burial spaces and will effectively provide a solution to the problem of lack of burial space for more than the next two decades.
Commenting on the new burial system, Avraham Manela, head of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa burial society, said "The expansion of the cemeteries in the Tel Aviv area is the best and most humane solution for those who reside in the area and do not wish to travel far to visit their loved ones who have passed away."
In recent years, several burial methods have been proposed to solve the problem of space. Cremation has been ruled out because it negates Jewish ritual law and the government-appointed committee for matters relating to burial has been looking to the past for a solution for the future — proposing, in its words, "high-density burials."
In biblical times it was common for the dead to be laid to rest on top of each other in underground crypts. This space-saving idea was resurrected 20 years ago by Israeli architects Tuvia Sagiv and Uri Ponger, who in 2009 approached Israel's Chief Rabbinate, which oversees Jewish burials, and showed it pictures of tombs in which members of an ancient judicial council, the Sanhedrin, were buried.
The rabbinate liked the idea, as long as strict religious guidelines were followed. "This system was used in the days of the Sanhedrin and the Jewish authority. We are just renewing something that existed in the past," said Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger at the time.
In the cramped Tel Aviv cemetery of Kiryat Shaul, a new four-story structure stands almost majestically beside the tens of thousands of graves that are packed as close as dominoes. The building is shaped like a hill with flowers and shrubbery growing on its outside walls. Inside, there is space for 5,000 corpses, about four times the number that could be buried in traditional graves within the boundaries of the plot.
On each floor, spacious halls are lined with rows of burial chambers stacked about three high. The rooms are bathed in sunlight and a constant crosswind ensures a pleasant atmosphere. Several rows of chambers are already filled and others reserved.
In their design, Sagiv and Ponger had to address the rabbis' concerns that the burial chambers would be built in accordance with Halachah, or Jewish ritual law.
Each chamber has a dirt floor, with a dirt column running all the way to the ground below, fulfilling the Jewish edict that burial spaces must be connected to the earth, Sagiv said. Cement walls separate each chamber, in line with the Jewish tenet to bury the dead as individuals.
"We were not sure if it will succeed or how people will react," Sagiv said. "But people liked the place. There is a nice atmosphere and you can see that many families have already chosen to reserve spots."
Similar structures are being constructed in major cities across Israel. Sagiv said one multi-floor "burial hill" will be built into the walls of an old stone quarry and the entire area will be landscaped.
The Chief Rabbinate oversees the funerals each year of about 35,000 Jews who die in Israel and about 1,500 who are flown in from around the world, ensuring that those who choose are buried according to Jewish law.
Dozens of graveyards in Israel have already closed their gates to new burials. Non-Jews, who are a minority in Israel, are buried in separate cemeteries, where there currently is no land crisis, officials said.