Deceased Connecticut woman faces exhumation amid religious and racial issues.
When Juliet Steer finally succumbed to lymphoma, her brother dutifully and loving carried our Juliet’s final wishes. She had been a devoted Christian in life but wanted to be buried in the Jewish manner, under the same traditions that Jesus had been buried with. She had even found a Jewish cemetery with an interfaith section separated by a road from the Jewish section that would accommodate those wishes. When she passed, her brother, Paul, arranged the ceremony and tearfully said good bye to a family member.
Despite the cemetery’s 2009 policy on interfaith burials, one cemetery board member has taken issue with Juliet’s presence on the grounds. Maria Balaban has sued both Paul Steer and her own congregation on the grounds that Juliet had no ties to Judaism. Maria claims that Juliet’s burial violates the spirit of the board’s ruling, to allow persons of different faith with ties to Judaism and the nearby synagogue to be buried with their families. She contests that since no one in the congregation knew Juliet, she did not belong.
However, the Steer family believes the real reason for the objection is because Juliet is black. Four other plots in the interfaith section have been reserved but have not seen Mrs. Balaban take similar legal action. The owners of those plots are white. The resulting controversy has divided the congregation.
It is terribly sad that such petty arguments can befall a grieving family and that human bias, be it religious or racial can inflict so much emotional damage to the Steers even after Juliet’s death. As an Atheist, I believe Juliet was incorrect in her faith. But, I do respect her final wishes. Some things are best left undisturbed.
Read more about this story on CNN’s Belief Blog.