Lawsuit: Non-Jew Buried in Jewish Cemetery

A Jewish woman is suing a local synagogue for allowing a non-Jewish woman to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Rachel Hirshfeld ,

Israel news photo: Flash 90

Negotiations to reach a settlement in a lawsuit over the burial of a non-Jewish woman in a Jewish cemetery in Colchester, Connecticut fell short of an agreement on Tuesday, a local newspaper reported.

Maria Balaban, represented by Norwich attorney Martin Rutchik, is suing Congregation Ahavath Achim over the 2010 burial of Juliet Steer, a non-Jewish black woman who is buried in the interfaith section of the Jewish cemetery.

Balaban, a longtime member of the congregation’s board of directors who has family buried at the cemetery, argued the rules of the interfaith section allow for the burial of people who are not Jewish but only if they are buried with their Jewish spouse, partner or other family member. The congregation has argued that wording in the bylaws allows for a person of any faith to be buried there.  

On Tuesday, Rutchik said, Balaban agreed to withdraw her request to unearth Steer from the cemetery; however the two sides have yet to reach an agreement.

Rutchik and attorney George Purtill, who represents the congregation, reportedly went back and forth for hours behind closed doors with their clients Tuesday in an attempt to work out a settlement.

“We’re almost there,” Rutchik said before leaving the courthouse.

The cemetery is owned by Congregation Ahavath Achim but was formerly managed by the Orthodox Jewish Aid Congregation, which merged with Congregation Ahavath Achim in 1999.

The lawsuit brought some unwanted attention to the congregation last year after the attorney representing Congregation Ahavath Achim hinted in court documents that it was motivated by racism. Balaban adamantly denies those claims.