Colchester cemetery case resolved

A legal dispute over the burial of non-Jewish people in a Colchester cemetery owned by the Congregation Ahavath Achim has been put to rest.

Synagogue member Maria Balaban sued the congregation after Juliet Steer, a non-Jew who had no family ties to the synagogue, was buried in the Gillette Lane Cemetery in 2010. Balaban, whose family members have been buried in the cemetery for three generations, claimed that Steer's burial was in violation of synagogue rules regarding interfaith burials.

The case went to trial in New London Superior Court in May, but the presiding judge Robert A. Martin, urged the two sides to come to an agreement rather than have him issue a ruling. The judge dismissed the case recently after the board of directors and membership of Ahavath Achim approved the agreement.

The two sides agreed that non-Jewish people who were married to Jews or were their significant others or part of their family unit can be buried in the interfaith portion of the cemetery, according to attorney Martin M. Rutchik, who represented Balaban.

A fence is being constructed to separate the traditional portion of the cemetery from the interfaith section, and Balaban has agreed to pay any costs above $10,000 for the construction. The fence is in keeping with the conservative or orthodox tradition of separating the graves of Jews and non-Jews, Rutchik said. At the same time, the interfaith cemetery will keep intermarried families together and within the Jewish faith, he said.

"The Balabans are pleased that they were able to preserve the burial of Jewish persons in the Gillette lane cemetery and that there has been an interfaith cemetery which was consistent with the interfaith cemeteries throughout the country," Rutchik said.

Attorney George Purtill, who represented the synagogue, declined to comment. James Seger, president of the synagogue's board of directors, could not immediately be reached to comment.

The family remains upset about an allegation of racism that surfaced after it was revealed that Steer was African American.

"All kinds of inferences and statements were made to the detriment of the Balabans, which were not so," Rutchik said. "It would not have made a difference who was buried there if they were not Jewish, a convert or married to a Jew."

Balaban, a longtime active participant in synagogue life, has been shunned by the congregation, Rutchik said. She will be attending a different synagogue for the upcoming high holiday, Rosh Hashanah, he said.

k.florin@theday.com

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