Act II — The Colchester cemetery dispute lives on


By Cindy Mindell


COLCHESTER – The 2011 Connecticut lawsuit heard around the world is not finished reverberating. The two parties trying to work out an agreement over a new interfaith cemetery, Congregation Ahavath Achim and congregant Maria Balaban, may be heading back to court to seek the help of an arbitrator.

In January 2011, Balaban sued the congregation after learning that Juliet Steer, a non-Jew with no ties to the synagogue, had been buried in the Ahavath Achim cemetery in 2010. Balaban claimed that the synagogue’s cemetery bylaws had been violated and demanded that a halachicly appropriate barrier be erected between the Orthodox Jewish cemetery and the new interfaith burial section created by the Ahavath Achim board.

The case went to trial in May 2012 in New London Superior Court. Presiding judge Robert A. Martin encouraged the two sides to come to an agreement in lieu of a ruling, and dismissed the case when they consented to do so.

A month later, both parties approved a contract which provided that the existing cemetery bylaws would be revised to allow the burial of non-Jewish spouses/partners and children of Jewish Ahavath Achim members in the new interfaith section. The area would be separated from the Jewish cemetery by extending an existing wrought-iron fence. It was agreed that Balaban and a synagogue board member would solicit, review, and recommend a fence-building contractor to the board; the synagogue would pay $10,000 in construction costs, with Balaban covering any excess.

After a year of meetings, a contractor has yet to be chosen. Balaban filed a lawsuit at the end of June, claiming breach of contract and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

“There is disagreement over several items, including what Mrs. Balaban is obligated to pay for in order to be in compliance with the stipulated agreement signed last summer,” says congregation president James B. Seger. “Because of the ongoing litigation, I’m not at liberty to say more. However, Congregation Ahavath Achim remains confident that this matter will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.”


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