Burial of Jewish War Veterans in Military Cemeteries
Information compiled by
the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington
with contributions from
Bob Gerwin, David Zinner, Harvey Stoler, Lynn Sandler, Diane Tepfer and Lois Passman
Veterans have three military cemetery options.
- Arlington National Cemetery – administered by the Department of the Army
- National Cemeteries – 131 cemeteries administered by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (4 in MD and 15 in VA)
- State Veterans Cemeteries – 98 cemeteries administered by each state (5 in MD and 3 in VA)
Veterans and their dependents, and certain others, such as some federal officials and certain Prisoners of War, are eligible for burial. Rules may vary in National and State Veterans Cemeteries. For a complete listing, see the Administrative Guide to Information and Burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
There is no cost to the veteran for the burial plot, opening/closing, headstone or liner (where used). There are opening/closing costs and a cost for a liner for dependents of service personnel.
A flag is usually provided. Standard honors include a casket team, firing party and a bugler. Full honors that include an escort platoon and a military band are available for those eligible by rank or status, and usually entail a delay in burial. At Arlington National Cemetery, officers and certain public figures may be eligible for burial with additional ceremonies. A horse-drawn caisson is available for those of NCO 9 rank and higher.
Burials in Maryland State Veterans’ Cemeteries can be conducted by Rabbi Michael Geller, Chaplain for the Jewish War Veterans of Maryland (410-764-9111.) Rabbi Marvin Bash is a chaplain at Ft. Belvoir Jewish Chapel and Arlington National Cemetery.
Garrison Forest Veteran’s Cemetery in Owings Mill, Maryland is the only veterans’ cemetery in the Washington Metropolitan area to have a dedicated or consecrated Jewish section. Burial in the Jewish section must be specifically requested. Burial can usually be arranged for the day after death. The main delay is in digging the grave. Burial with military honors may cause further delays, depending on the availability of personnel. Funeral services held at the Cemetery Chapel may entail a further delay depending on availability of the Chapel. 410-363-6090
Crownsville Veteran’s Cemetery in Maryland is said to have a Jewish Section, but this could not be confirmed.
Issues of concern to the Jewish community
- Lack of a dedicated Jewish section. There have been cemeteries for Jewish veterans in the past, for example, Jewish veterans of the Civil War, but for the most part, there are no longer active Jewish cemeteries exclusively for veterans. At all Veteran’s Cemeteries in this area (see below for exceptions), including Arlington National Cemetery, burial is in common ground with deceased of all faiths, and burial is in order of the next available gravesite, unless burial is in the plot of a pre-deceased dependent. There are approximately 2,000 Jewish Veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery according to the official cemetery site, or 5,000 according to the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington.
- Delays – It may take from 5 days to 2 months for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Burial with additional military honors such as a horse-drawn caisson usually result in further delays. Use of the Chapel at Arlington National Cemetery for the funeral service usually results in additional delays. Funeral services held off-site (not in the Arlington National Cemetery Chapel) usually shorten the time to burial.
- Officiation – A rabbi may be selected by the deceased’s representative, or a Chaplain affiliated with the cemetery may conduct services.
- Volunteer Honor Guard Readings – Unrequested religious words or icons may be inserted into veterans’ funerals.
- Traditional Burial Rituals – Lowering the casket and filling in the grave are not allowed at Arlington National Cemetery. Procedures in National and State veterans’ cemeteries may vary.
- Monuments – In most cemeteries, headstones or footstones are standardized. The headstone can have the Star of David (Magen David) symbol inscribed above the name of the deceased.
One experience at Arlington National Cemetery
We were told to be at the Administration Bldg at 8:30 am. The driver of the hearse represented the funeral home. He brought the regular supplies for the family, including the black ribbon kit. We were assigned a very gracious family room, and a woman acted as the Arlington National Cemetery funeral director. She had forms for the daughter to sign, and talked with her about what to expect. Shortly before 9 am we were led into our cars [previously parked outside] and led by funeral director to the site. She also confirmed with our officiant the amount of time [approx 15 minutes] we had for our Jewish part of the service.
Near the site 6 uniformed pallbearers, plus one female leader and another male ceremonially bore the casket and led us to the site. As you will see from the pictures, 5 chairs and artificial grass were waiting at the site. After our service the pallbearers ceremonially folded the American flag, which had served as a pall, and presented it to the daughter. We had a brief time to sprinkle dirt on the casket, which was not lowered while we were there. Next was a gun salute from one direction, and a lone bugler who played taps from the other direction. The pall bearers marched back, and we left within the allotted 1/2 hour.
Problems with Jewish funerals at Arlington National Cemetery
A military full honors ceremony at Arlington Cemetery may mean a 2-4 month delay in burial. Sometimes there are cancellations on the waiting list. Be sure to let the cemetery know that you will take any earlier time that is not on Shabbat. Delays impact a number of decisions:
- When to have the funeral – soon after death, at the burial, or both
- Will embalming be required – the cemetery may cancel a funeral if there are any odors or leakage. Yet neither The Administrative Guide to Information and Burial at Arlington National Cemetery or Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors mention smells or leakage. If the tahara is done and the body is not put in the casket, but rather refrigerated, this prevents the wood of the casket from warping or getting wet. On the day of the funeral, a representative of the Chevra Kadisha could meet with the funeral director and assess the situation. If there is leakage, the casket could be lined with plastic. If there is a smell, there is powder that will address that situation.
- Will the chevra perform the tahara if there is embalming afterwards?
- What is the cost of refrigeration/storage?
- How would shmira be handled?
- When would mourning begin; how would shiva and shloshim be handled?
- Will the military perform honors at civilian cemeteries?
- Will Jewish War Veterans perform military honors at civilian cemeteries?
- What provisions are made for unveiling?
Pictures from a Jewish Arlington National Cemetery burial.
Folding the Flag Rifle Volley Firing Team