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Voinovich School research associate’s article on Jewish burial featured in Ohio Township News

Natalie Wilson

Natalie Wilson, research associate at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, recently wrote an article for Ohio Township News about Jewish burial in Southeast Ohio.

The article features information from a presentation made to the Southeast Ohio Natural Burial Working Group (SONBWG) by Dr. Alfred Weiner. A member of the SONBWG, Wilson works to educate and make natural burial an option for those around Athens County. Noting the similarities between natural burial and Jewish burial, Weiner, a clinical psychologist in Athens, agreed to give a presentation on the history of Jewish burial in Southeast Ohio.

Jewish burial first began in Athens Country in 1984 when Jewish community members realized they could only be buried in Zanesville or Columbus – cities where cemeteries have a natural burial option. Rather than travel out of town, members of the Jewish community formed the Southeast Jewish Cemetery Association (SOJCA) and sought to find a local natural burial opportunity, eventually connecting with Alexander Cemetery.

Jewish burial recognizes the importance of death and burial as a natural part of life, allowing the deceased to become part of the nature that God created, according to the religious practices. Typically, the deceased is buried in a simple, pine box wearing a linen shroud with only natural materials – no metal, no embalming, no cement vaults and no makeup. Although the tradition is part of the Jewish faith, today many people outside of Judaism are interested in the practice due to the low cost and environmental benefits.  

“Already, parallels between the SONBWG and SOJCA are clear – community members coming together to find solutions when local end-of-life options are limited,” Wilson said.

Formed in 2019, the SONBWG works with township trustees, local funeral homes, death care consultants and a myriad of other interested parties to make natural burial available to those in Southeast Ohio. The group is comprised of Wilson; Cheryl Cesta, a retired counselor and public safety instructor at Hocking College; Wenda Sheard, a retired attorney; and StarMary Castro, a Quaker and advocate for natural burial.

“Natural burial is a clear environmental win over conventional burial, which aligns with the environmental focus of the Voinovich School,” Wilson said. “Bringing a natural burial ground to Athens County, the overarching goal of the group, is an innovative approach to bringing needed services to the region instead of necessitating travel outside the community.”

The SONBWG also focuses on a community-based approach to natural burial. When the nation moved to conventional burial, Appalachians were among the last groups to accept the change, making Southeastern Ohio the ideal audience for community outreach concerning natural burial and its benefits. Furthermore, the SONBWG plans to work closely with cemeteries and funeral directors to spread awareness and field questions about the natural burial option.

SONBWG is offering a virtual presentation about affordable burial with a short introduction to natural burial on Thursday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. The Zoom discussion will include information on natural burial, the cost of end-of-life needs, things to do to prepare, rights and options around interment and local natural burial options. Join the event here.