Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > Announcements > Israel: A personal message from Adam Keller on the burial of ashes of his (...)

Israel: A personal message from Adam Keller on the burial of ashes of his mother and his wife

Sunday 5 December 2021, by siawi3

Source: , email 5.12.21

A personal message from Adam Keller on the burial of ashes, an emotionally loaded day

5.12.21 17:53 (59 minutes ago)

Personal message from Adam Keller - to all friends and acquaintances and to anyone interested.

Following is a translation of the Hebrew message I have sent by WhatsApp and Facebook to family and friends in Israel.
I want to share this with people who know me - personally or virtually - around the world, even if you cannot be there in person.

Yours, Adam Keller


The burial of the ashes of Hava Keller (my mother) and Beate Keller (my wife) will take place tomorrow, Monday, December 6, 2021, at 3:00 PM in the community of Ma’ale Tzvia in the Gallilee, where my sister Yael Keller-Shoshani and her family live.

All who are interested in paying homage to one or both of them, and consider it important enough to travel to the Galilee for the purpose, are most welcome. I would like to be notified in advance of the intention to arrive, by a private message on WhatsApp or a phone call to 054-2340749.

The most convenient way to get there is to take the train from Tel Aviv to Haifa and from there to Carmiel. Yaeli and her family will take care of picking up everybody who comes, from the Carmiel railway station to where the ashes will be buried in Ma’ale Tzvia.

Some explanatory words:

When a person dies and is brought for burial, the procedure is quick - usually the funeral takes place within a few days. Especially in the State of Israel, where most
funerals are held according to Jewish religious law which emphasizes the need to bury the dead as soon as possible. (Jewish law was created in hot lands, long before there were refrigerators where a dead body could be kept ...).

In Israel, cremation is uncommon, being very much contrary to Jewish religious practice. A person’s wish to be cremated rather than buried is in effect a political and social act of defiance against the religious establishment.

Aside from that, when a body is cremated, the family members eventually get the ashes and then they have to decide what to do with them, and when to do it.

My mother, Hava Keller, passed away on the last day of 2019, and according to her will her body was cremated. Before we could decide what to do with her ashes, the Corona Virus crisis was upon us, with prolonged closures and major disruptions of daily life.

At first we thought of scattering my mother’s ashes in the sea off the coast of Tel Aviv that she loved. We had earlier scattered in the Mediterranean the ashes of my father, Jacob Keller. In that case it was, at his request, off a specific coast in Northern Israel where he had spent happy years in the 1950s.

However, with the delay caused by the Corona upheaval, eventually the family decision tended in a different direction - to bury the ashes in the ground and plant a tree above them (an olive tree seems most appropriate).

This idea is especially attractive due to the symbolic element that the young tree will itself draw vitality from the ashes buried beneath it, which are an organic material.

The most suitable place to carry out the idea is Ma’ale Tzvia, where my sister lives. This is a rural community with lots of open spaces where it is easy to find a suitable place for burying the ashes and planting a tree. Yaeli and her family can take care of the seedling and ensure that it does grow into a beautiful tree worthy of her who is buried under it.

The idea of burying the ashes was formulated in the family circle already in late 2020, but due to the corona period and all sorts of technical problems it was not implemented.

Beate, my wife, took an active part in the family discussions, and she liked the idea of burying the ashes and planting a tree.

Then, most sadly and painfully, on August 6 this year Beate herself passed away. She had also asked to be cremated. The obvious solution was to hold a double burial ceremony, to plant two trees in one location - and this is what we intend to do tomorrow. In recent days, it was decided in the family circle to add a third tree, in memory of my father Yaakov Keller - even though his ashes were scattered in the sea.

We will not have a very elaborate ceremony. Me and Yaeli will say a few words, and invite anyone else who wants to say something relevant. There will be a recorded message from Beate’s daughter Jedida, who lives in Holland and cannot be there in person (at the moment Israel bans all entry of foreign citizens to its territory). The music which was part of the zoom memorial for Beate in August will be heard again - the two pieces which Beate herself specified, in the last days at Ichilov Hospital when she knew she was going to die, and the piece later added by my cousin Boaz. And Yaeli found a piece which was a favorite of our mother Hava. And then we proceed with the burial and tree planting.

For the sake of those who cannot be present, we will make an effort to take photos and make short videos which will be later spread. This is especially important for the sake of Beata’s family members in the Netherlands, who unfortunately will not be able to be physically present - but also for the sake of friends in Israel who cannot take the time to travel northwards on a working day, and the many friends that Beate and my mother had all over the world.

A few words about why Beate chose to ask to have her body cremated.

Beate was definitely Jewish. As a Jewish baby born under Nazi occupation in 1942, she was in very concrete danger in her early years and survived thanks to families who risked themselves to hide her.

In the first years in her first marriage, when her husband Eddie was observant, she actually maintained for his sake a Kosher household and lit candles on Friday evenings (until after about five years, Eddie abandoned religion...).

Well, Beate was Jewish - but she vehemently refused to register as such in Israel. She was not a Zionist and did not want to gain Israeli citizenship according to the country’s Law of Return, but rather gain citizenship as the wife of an Israeli citizen. (Obtaining Israeli citizenship in this way is neither easy nor simple, it took several years ...).

In general, Beate shared with most Dutch Jews a very strong objection to the registration of religion or ethnic origin in identity cards and official documents. In the Netherlands there had been such a registration in the 1930s, which greatly facilitated the Nazi hunt for Jews. (After the war the Netherlands abolished this kind of registration.)

Since Beate was not listed as a Jew in any official documents, it is likely that the Hevra Kadisha - the religious burial society which handles most burials in Israel - would have refused to bury her.

Secular burial is possible in Israel - but it is a difficult and complicated process and requires a lot of running around and struggles by family members in the immediate aftermath of the death of their loved one. Beate, who knew full well what a severe blow her death would be to me, wanted to spare me this trouble.

Compared to secular burial, the procedure of cremation is easy and simple. The family needs simply instruct the hospital administration not to call the religious burial society but rather contact the Aley Salechet (“Autumn Leaves”) association which handles cremation. They would then arrive and take care of the rest (after having received in advance the modest payment of NIS 12,000, about 4,000 Euro...).

When I recall the immediate aftermath of when I arrived at Ichilov Hospital with Beate and left without her, how hard and painful that first week was, I am grateful that she spared me the need to have in that week also to run around in a desperate search for a secular burial location.

One last personal word: I’m afraid that the burying of the ashes will be a difficult moment for me, opening the wounds that have not really healed. I am very grateful to the many friends and family members who offer me their support on this difficult but unavoidable moment.

Yours, Adam Keller