Residents of the rustic moshav Hibat Tzion, where arsonists torched the only operating crematorium in Israel on Wednesday, say they would never have consented to its opening had they known of its existence in advance.
"We would have closed it down ourselves," one of them said, complaining of unbearable odors and the constant associations to the Holocaust. "We would not have resorting to violence."
Shalom Raz, 75, one of the first people to settle in Hibat Tzion, said he had initially attributed the odor emanating from the facility to the industrial zone in Emek Hefer.
“We discovered the crematorium by chance, when someone spotted an ambulance transporting bodies at night,” he said, “the ashes were scattered or put in an urn. The stench of the burnt copses was… at times it was hard to breathe."
"I myself am secular, but no one in the community wanted this establishment here. It dredges up associations to the Holocaust; it's simply audacious that someone would build something like this. We'll fight anyone who tries to reopen this business, now the municipality is involved
and it turns out no official authority sanctioned any of this," said Raz.
Crematorium chamber after arson (Photo: Ra'anan Ben-Zur)
"We're very troubled by what happened… But something like this, cremation, it simply should not have been brought to our door," said Ra'anan Gashuri, chairman of the resident's committee. "We spoke to the residents and even the secular ones agree that it's an intrusive operation that should not be based in a residential area. It emits a terrible odor and brings to mind unpleasant associations. I'm against any violence, but on the other hand we're quite pleased that this has stopped."
Crematorium CEO: Odor complaints psychological
Alei Shalechet CEO Alon Nativ attributed the residents’ complaints to psychology and "an active imagination.”
Nativ said the facility emitted no odors, as the burning process took place in a sealed apparatus.
“I wonder why the Environmental Protection Ministry has yet to receive any complaints on the facility,” Nativ said, questioning the veracity of the resident's complaints.
The Alei Shalechet CEO said that while he understood the religious sector’s sensitivity to the issue, the facility received all the necessary authorizations to operate and he does not intend to succumb to “coercion”.
“We purposely set up the facility over half a mile from any residential area so as not to shove it in anyone's face. We didn't found this place to pick a fight with anyone, we are providing a service to people who choose this (to be cremated) of their own free will - but we knew that the haredi terror would eventually get us,’ he said.
As for the comparison some have made between him and the Nazis, Nativ said, “More than 20 percent of the people who turn to us are Holocaust survivors. Those who compare us to the Nazis are fools.
“Many prominent Jewish figures chose to be cremated after their death, including Albert Einstein, Milton Friedman and Arthur Rubinstein,” he said. "Personally, I believe it is wrong to worship a stone, and I don't want my children to worship one.
"I wish to be cremated after my death and have my ashes scattered in the wind and every year on my birthday, my family will come together, raise their glasses as one, remember that life is beautiful and move on. That is my message."
Neta Sela contributed to this report