The Mount Sinai Cemetery in Phoenix is ââexpanding.
The last time this happened was only four or five years ago, said Ira Mann, chief executive of Mount Sinai. The cemetery then added around 500 plots, and Mann didn’t expect to need another expansion so quickly.
Due to the growing Jewish community in Greater Phoenix, people who have died ahead of time, and the COVID-19 pandemic, burials have increased by 50% compared to pre-COVID times. More and more families are also making advance arrangements. A 2021 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association found that the pandemic motivated 37.8% of respondents to plan ahead for their own funeral and / or memorial arrangements.
âThis time around we’ve grown even bigger,â Mann said, noting that 1,800 plots are expected to open on Monday, December 6. “It has been a mad rush for the past two years.”
The cemetery opened in 2005 and spans 32 acres, eight of which are landscaped. The Jewish community grew exponentially in the years that followed. A 2019 Arizona State University report found that the Jewish population of Maricopa County had increased by 19% since 2002.
âOur goal is to welcome every Jewish person in the Jewish community here on earth,â Mann said.
He said the vast majority of staff work – 90% – involves working with families on pre-planning arrangements.
âIt’s not just people who come here and buy because someone has passed away from COVID. They come here because they don’t want their families to take care of it, to pass this burden on to their children, âsaid Mann. “The worst time to make financial decisions is when someone has passed away.”
The process is straightforward. An individual or couple chooses which plot they would like – Mann calls this part choosing âtheir last condoâ – a tombstone, and whether they would like multiple sites. Some even choose the color of their monuments or design one themselves. The cemetery has also recently started offering ledger headstones, something that completely covers the grave.
âWe get a lot of inheritance here,â he said. “Not only are the parents buying it, but the children are buying plots so that they can keep the family together.”
Mann plans to spend his afterlife at Mount Sinai with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. It has two plots.
The pandemic has created challenges for the cemetery, but it has never had a problem offering burials within 24 hours of someone passing away.
âWe were able to welcome everyone who walks through the door and we have become very close to a lot of families,â he said. “It’s been a busy, busy and busy year and I’m a little tired, but we survived the rain.”
Mann has seen quite a few unexpected deaths over the past two years, and it has been difficult each time.
âYou kind of have to find your own way to be at peace with yourself with whatever is going on,â he said. âI really feel there is an order, and I don’t think a parent should ever bury a child. And it was very, very hard. There has certainly been a lot more than normal over the past couple of years. “
While other cemeteries in the Greater Phoenix are attached to a synagogue or have explicitly Jewish sections, the Mount Sinai cemetery is exclusively Jewish, with sections named after biblical matriarchs and patriarchs.
Mann said the owners had traded 27% of the burial space to ensure there would be a sidewalk in front of each grave.
âThat way no one steps on anyone’s grave. I don’t have anyone driving over anyone’s grave. I don’t have a lawn mower going over people’s graves because we are a desert landscape cemetery, âhe said.
This latest expansion is expected to last for several years, Mann said. When it’s time for the next one, there will be a lot more space available.
âWe have room for the next 100 years or so: for me, my successor and his successor,â he said. Jn