Burial Decisions to be Made

Posted on June 1, 2018 by Martin Oaks under Community, Hello world, Memorial, Resources
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How did the recently deceased superstar novelist Philip Roth end up being buried in Bard College Cemetery in a rustic setting, two hours north of the urban axis of Newark/New York that were his stomping grounds?

Typical of Roth — he did so with intention and resolution, much as he lived his life.

We at Martin Oaks Cemetery and Crematory are very well acquainted with the serpentine route relatives follow when selecting a final resting spot.  Family considerations, expense, convenience, are all factors which lead to decisions about grave sites.

According to his biographer, Blake Bailey, and others on familiar terms with the author, it was about 10 -15 years ago that events transpired which led to the selection of Bard College Cemetery.

In Roth’s case, money was obviously not a concern, nor was convenience. His immediate family was not an issue.

Roth’s parents are buried in Newark, New Jersey in an historic Jewish Cemetery, Gomel Chesed — a very well respected and well-tended necropolis.

But, again according to respected sources, he rejected that choice for two reasons: he could not find a plot near his parents; second, Newark being Newark, crime considerations were, well, considerations.

Although Roth was proud of his Jewish heritage, religious significance of the cemetery had little bearing on the decision.  Blake Bailey has stated that the scribe had no “metaphysical” dimension: in fact, Roth decided that Jewish burial rituals/ customs were not to be part of his interment.

Apparently, he wanted to be in a cemetery near few of friends of his from the faith, so he “could have someone to talk to” (Roth’s noir humor never left him).

As a side note, the Jewish experience was a central part of Roth’s work: for a while, it was coolly received by the community.  As Roth aged and times changed, the contention diminished; warmth and general acceptance developed.

The Jewish Book Council bestowed its Lifetime Literary Achievement Award on him.  Similarly, a few years ago, the Jewish Theological Seminary gave him an honorary doctorate.

So whatever controversy that once existed had, to a large extent, dissipated.  But, to the end, Roth was not interested in having any formal religious observance.

Let us make it clear that we have no position on religious ceremonies at Martin Oaks — this is a personal matter, we are fully accepting, respectful and supportive of whatever our client’s wishes are in this regard.

So back to the question of the Bard Cemetery.

By all accounts, it is a very serene spot — small, park- like and much in keeping with a peaceful resting place.

Roth had some attachment to Bard in a formal sense: he once taught a course there; he also received an honorary degree from the institution.

However, it was his friendships with college president Leon Botstein and professor/writer-in-residence, Norman Manea, that were the keys to the Bard selection.

He wanted to be among those with whom he had “deep and abiding” connections.

We have seen this time and again here at Martin Oaks Cemetery & Crematory.

It should be noted that Roth will be in other good company — not far from his grave, the imminent philosopher and thinker, Hannah Arendt is interred.

Thus ends the 85 year old journey of one of America’s premier writers: he certainly will be remembered as one of the most gifted story tellers this country has produced.

His sense of humor, as noted previously, will also be missed.  Among the remembrances we have read recently, two of his lines linger: when talking about his obituary, Roth said, “a bad notice even in death;” and when asked about Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature (an award which, tragically, eluded him), Roth said he was fine with the selection — and he hoped “Peter, Paul and Mary” would get the next one.

RIP Philip Roth



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