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Queens, NY - Judge Throws Out Lawsuit of Negligence Against Jewish Cemetery

Published on: October 22, 2009 12:01 PM
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Bayside Cemetery (photo credit Maisel for Daily News)Bayside Cemetery (photo credit Maisel for Daily News)

Queens, NY - One of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in New York City will remain an eyesore and a disgrace to the memories of thousands buried there for the foreseeable future.

A judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed against Bayside Cemetery in Ozone Park charging the operator with failing to maintain the perpetual care of the plots.

Federal Judge Raymond Dearie ruled there is no jurisdiction in federal court for the class-action suit, which was filed more than two years ago.

“As the court has noted from the outset of these proceedings, all agree that Bayside Cemetery’s state of decay and disrepair is disheartening and in need of prompt repair,” Dearie stated in his decision.

The court papers depict the cemetery - founded in the mid-19th century - as a worthy setting for a horror movie, with human remains exposed in desecrated crypts. The grounds are overgrown with weeds and brush, completely covering many tombstones, rendering paths impassible.

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Michael Buchman, an attorney who is representing five descendants of Jews buried in the cemetery, filed a new lawsuit yesterday in Manhattan Supreme Court against Congregation Shaare Zedek, an upper West Side synagogue that owns and operates the cemetery.

“After two years of judicial delays, Chief Judge Dearie concocted a reason to dismiss the case from federal court,” said plaintiff John Lucker, of Connecticut, whose grandparents purchased a burial plot there in the 1970s.

“In the meantime, Bayside Cemetery continues to be in a horrific, disgraceful condition and Congregation Shaare Zedek continues not to be held accountable,” he said.

After the suit was originally filed, Rabbi Julia Andelman of Shaare Zedek told the Daily News that many of the burial societies that sold the plots have disappeared or stopped contributing to the upkeep of the grounds.


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1

 Oct 22, 2009 at 12:07 PM lucky 2b alive Says:

"rabbi" julie (you are a disgrace!) aside from your completly miguided version of the torah, have you no honor or sympathy for anything sacred . how could u allow the jewish bodies to lie in disgrace like this. this is one of the greatest mizvot in your hands, and u dispose of it like a dirty tissue, shame on you. if u have no interest in this cemetary, give it over to the kevra kadisha and they will care for it . good grief! you people make me ill.

2

 Oct 22, 2009 at 12:20 PM A yid Says:

"Rebbetzin" Julie not rabbi.

3

 Oct 22, 2009 at 12:16 PM Anonymous Says:

The ehrleche (and wealthy) yidden of Shaare Zedek have much better things to do with their money than waste it on kovod hames or maintaining some old gravesites. For example, this sunday afternoon, they are hosting their first world music day "Peace Concert:" to promote better understanding among the people of the world. this is such a kiddush hashem and clearly takes priority over somthing as depressing as a cemetery described as somthing out of a horror movie.

4

 Oct 22, 2009 at 12:31 PM Aharon Says:

Rather than attacking Miss Julie why don't yungerleit volunteer to do chesed shel emes and clean the place up?

5

 Oct 22, 2009 at 12:59 PM Just Wondering Says:

I have often wondered why so many Jewish cemeteries are neglected and overgrown with weeds while goyishe cemetery plots are tended so well and maintained neatly. any ideas why this is the case? BTW I am a frum Jew so this is a real question.

6

 Oct 22, 2009 at 12:55 PM Anonymous Says:

RavAndelman is a highly regard rabbanit and recognized scholar. Her point is simple. The shul simply serves as the administrator for the many burial societies that actually own the gravesites and have contracted for perpetual care which they never paid for. The shul does not have the resources to pay these costs for all the societies. This is a collective obligation for the entire NYC jewish community and not just one shul. Rather than wasting money on big parties, concerts, day trips and fabrengens such as we saw on chol ha'moed succos and simchas beis ha'shoaevah, why didn't all the rabbonim throughout the city, including BP, WB etc. issue a directive to spend the time with shovels and rakes and begin cleaning up these cemetaries. This is not the only one in this condition.

7

 Oct 22, 2009 at 12:52 PM jewinjerusalem Says:

Reply to #4  
Aharon Says:

Rather than attacking Miss Julie why don't yungerleit volunteer to do chesed shel emes and clean the place up?

Are you volunteering first? It's always easier to tell the other guy what to do.

8

 Oct 22, 2009 at 01:28 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #5  
Just Wondering Says:

I have often wondered why so many Jewish cemeteries are neglected and overgrown with weeds while goyishe cemetery plots are tended so well and maintained neatly. any ideas why this is the case? BTW I am a frum Jew so this is a real question.

I'm not sure, but christian cemetaries are often located right on or next to church grounds and congregation members do some of the weeding, law mowing, etc. themselves and the cemetaries often have the stones less closely spaced, making upkeep easier. Also, while many jews first lived in nyc and settled there and were buried in the nyc area, many of their descendants are spread out all over the country and probably few of those buried in this cemetary have children or grandchildren nearby to come care for the plots. The phenomenon of burial societies who are responsible for the plots that disappear as the members die off, rather than large and continuing congregations, being responsible also may be somewhat unique to ny area jews.

9

 Oct 22, 2009 at 01:26 PM PMO Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

RavAndelman is a highly regard rabbanit and recognized scholar. Her point is simple. The shul simply serves as the administrator for the many burial societies that actually own the gravesites and have contracted for perpetual care which they never paid for. The shul does not have the resources to pay these costs for all the societies. This is a collective obligation for the entire NYC jewish community and not just one shul. Rather than wasting money on big parties, concerts, day trips and fabrengens such as we saw on chol ha'moed succos and simchas beis ha'shoaevah, why didn't all the rabbonim throughout the city, including BP, WB etc. issue a directive to spend the time with shovels and rakes and begin cleaning up these cemetaries. This is not the only one in this condition.

While your points about Ms. Andelman are just plain ridiculous, the rest of your statement is very true. No one synagogue can fix this problem. It is an issue for the entire Jewish community.

10

 Oct 22, 2009 at 01:24 PM PMO Says:

Reply to #5  
Just Wondering Says:

I have often wondered why so many Jewish cemeteries are neglected and overgrown with weeds while goyishe cemetery plots are tended so well and maintained neatly. any ideas why this is the case? BTW I am a frum Jew so this is a real question.

The answer is simple. Money and desire.

Many gentile cemeteries are run by massive international xian churches which have, in some cases, billions of dollars behind them. We do not have such "centralized" organizations with that kind of financial power. You will also find their schools getting involved in things like this. For example, an xian school here has a requirement of "community service" in order to graduate. Students MUST fulfill that requirement to get a diploma. Recently, one group of students fulfilled their obligation by going to a small cemetery here that was on the grounds of a church that had been destroyed in Hurricane Andrew in order to clean up the trash, mow the lawns and plant trees.

Americorps just the other day chose a neglected cemetery in St. Louis (Washington Park Cemetery) as a recipient for funding and help getting volunteers to help restore the cemetery. Landscapers, engineers, and equipment leasing companies are apparently lining up in droves to help out.

For some reason in our community we have no such desires. Why don't our children volunteer to help out? Why not have the bochurim devote 1 week of the spring and 1 week in the fall to helping in these kinds of efforts? We all give them money to live on, why should we not ask them to give a little bit of themselves to better our community? Why don't the MO groups get involved either? Where is NCSY or YI Youth Programs or JEP in organizing a community response? It really is shameful.

11

 Oct 22, 2009 at 01:18 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #5  
Just Wondering Says:

I have often wondered why so many Jewish cemeteries are neglected and overgrown with weeds while goyishe cemetery plots are tended so well and maintained neatly. any ideas why this is the case? BTW I am a frum Jew so this is a real question.

thats because the Guinne Oranizations controls the Non Jewish Cemetaries

12

 Oct 22, 2009 at 01:09 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #5  
Just Wondering Says:

I have often wondered why so many Jewish cemeteries are neglected and overgrown with weeds while goyishe cemetery plots are tended so well and maintained neatly. any ideas why this is the case? BTW I am a frum Jew so this is a real question.

"I have often wondered why so many Jewish cemeteries are neglected and overgrown with weeds while goyishe cemetery plots are tended so well and maintained neatly. any ideas why this is the case? BTW I am a frum Jew so this is a real question.”

Simple answer. In most cases, the goiyeshe cemeteries required payment in full for perpetual care at the time of purchase of a plot and the money was placed in an escrow account with trustees or the church itself administered the funds. The landsleit or burial societies never were fully funded and when the second and third generations moved out of NYC, there was no on left to pay for the maintenance. Jewish cemeteries should be a priority but most rabbonim have given up trying to make their congregants focus on these issues. Its too depressing. Its much sexier to raise funds to restore a cemetery in Warsaw or Kiev than one that sits in your backyard under the Long Islane Expressway. Goyim respect their parents, most yidden could care less.

13

 Oct 22, 2009 at 02:37 PM Dovid Says:

Yeshivas are always looking for chesed projects - here is exercise and fresh air.

14

 Oct 22, 2009 at 02:59 PM Z. N. Mishegoss Says:

My grandparents OBM are buried in the Old Montefiore only a few hundred feet from Rav Schneerson's grave, and when I went to visit in August, I was appalled at the condition - we've had perpetual care since their passing, long since fully paid for, and nearly every year I find the place looking like a jungle and I have to complain. They did an OK job cleaning up after a geshrei you could hear in Albany, but I think we've got to stay on the cases of cemetery managers to make sure the places are kept up. I think they're skimping because it's now two or more generations removed from the people who bought plots in the burial societies - who imagines the grandchildren go to visit?

15

 Oct 22, 2009 at 02:57 PM Anonymous Says:

"Yeshivas are always looking for chesed projects - here is exercise and fresh air"

I'm not sure about the fresh air part of your suggestion, but promoting "exercise" is mamash apikorsus for yeshiva bochurim.

16

 Oct 22, 2009 at 02:23 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #10  
PMO Says:

The answer is simple. Money and desire.

Many gentile cemeteries are run by massive international xian churches which have, in some cases, billions of dollars behind them. We do not have such "centralized" organizations with that kind of financial power. You will also find their schools getting involved in things like this. For example, an xian school here has a requirement of "community service" in order to graduate. Students MUST fulfill that requirement to get a diploma. Recently, one group of students fulfilled their obligation by going to a small cemetery here that was on the grounds of a church that had been destroyed in Hurricane Andrew in order to clean up the trash, mow the lawns and plant trees.

Americorps just the other day chose a neglected cemetery in St. Louis (Washington Park Cemetery) as a recipient for funding and help getting volunteers to help restore the cemetery. Landscapers, engineers, and equipment leasing companies are apparently lining up in droves to help out.

For some reason in our community we have no such desires. Why don't our children volunteer to help out? Why not have the bochurim devote 1 week of the spring and 1 week in the fall to helping in these kinds of efforts? We all give them money to live on, why should we not ask them to give a little bit of themselves to better our community? Why don't the MO groups get involved either? Where is NCSY or YI Youth Programs or JEP in organizing a community response? It really is shameful.

They aren't run by massive international churches, cemetaries are run and funded at the local church or parish level, so crying poverty is not the answer.

As for why the teenagers aren't volunteering, maybe they don't have adult examples to follow. Maybe no one taught them how to use a lawnmower, a rake and a weedwacker. Maybe being expected to be in school/beit medrish 16 hours/day doesn't leave a lot of time for volunteer work.

17

 Oct 22, 2009 at 02:14 PM NSR Says:

Reply to #4  
Aharon Says:

Rather than attacking Miss Julie why don't yungerleit volunteer to do chesed shel emes and clean the place up?

IN the summer of 2008 I went into the cementary and spoke to the caretaker about getting a dumpster ang at least cleaning out the front part wich is covered with full garbege bags. The caretaker told me I had to call the office. The office just wanted me to send them a check and they would take care of a clean up. PS the caretaker had the boyscouts come and help with weed removel and some painting of the gates.

18

 Oct 22, 2009 at 03:27 PM Anonymous Says:

I am orthodox, and live in a small midwestern community.

Last summer i was visiting the orthodox cemetery to get some information from a tombstone on behalf of out-of-town grandchildren. While there, I saw about a dozen teens. Asking them what they were doing in the cemetery on a hot summer afternoon, they told me that they were from the local reform summer camp, and were volunteering their time to spruce up the cemetery.

Nobody was paying them, nobody taking pictures, nobody putting articles in the paper etc. Had i not been there, i would have never known.........

19

 Oct 22, 2009 at 03:23 PM PMO Says:

Reply to #16  
Anonymous Says:

They aren't run by massive international churches, cemetaries are run and funded at the local church or parish level, so crying poverty is not the answer.

As for why the teenagers aren't volunteering, maybe they don't have adult examples to follow. Maybe no one taught them how to use a lawnmower, a rake and a weedwacker. Maybe being expected to be in school/beit medrish 16 hours/day doesn't leave a lot of time for volunteer work.

You are correct about general funding coming from the local level, many projects (especially in the most wealthy of church corporations) are given national funding.

20

 Oct 22, 2009 at 03:34 PM get real Says:

Volunteering is not the answer here. We're talking about around 13 acres of land that have been neglected so long that they have become a forest. The roots of the trees are entangled in the graves, mausoleums are open and desecrated bodies are strewn about needing reburial, a huge, professional, effort needs to be made here.

The state has laws about how perpetual care funds are to be used to make sure cemeteries receive perpetual care, but those laws obviously did not help here.

If you are interested in more information (and responses by Ms. Julia Andelman), I recommend that you check out Bayside Acacia Cemetery on citynoise.org.

21

 Oct 22, 2009 at 04:07 PM Anonymous Says:

why in Europe all jewish cemetaries are being taken care of and here in america its a disaster? It should never have come to this.

22

 Oct 22, 2009 at 03:45 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #18  
Anonymous Says:

I am orthodox, and live in a small midwestern community.

Last summer i was visiting the orthodox cemetery to get some information from a tombstone on behalf of out-of-town grandchildren. While there, I saw about a dozen teens. Asking them what they were doing in the cemetery on a hot summer afternoon, they told me that they were from the local reform summer camp, and were volunteering their time to spruce up the cemetery.

Nobody was paying them, nobody taking pictures, nobody putting articles in the paper etc. Had i not been there, i would have never known.........

Given all the issues confronting yidden today, I cannot imagine a more important concern or a greater opportunity for kiddush hashem than to clean up the cemeteries in the NYC area. With thousands of unemployed and unskilled frumme bochurim sitting around the kollels doing nothing, even one day a week of weeding and general cleanup at jewish cemeteries would guarantee that within a year the situation would be vastly improved. But I suspect it will never happen because of sheer laziness and and the stupid argument that such an endeavor is bittul torah (i.e. learning a daf gemorah is much more important that kavod ham'es).

23

 Oct 22, 2009 at 03:18 PM Anonymous Says:

The comments above about burial societies owning the cemetery and not paying for perpetual care at Bayside Cemetery is simply NOT TRUE. Go to http://www.baysidecemeterylitigation.com to learn more. Congregation Shaare Zedek misappropriated (stole?) over $5 million of the cemetery's funds to do things like fix the synagogue's roof. They admitted that in a recent NY Daily News article. By the way, do you think that when someone buys a burial plot at a cemetery that a real estate transaction takes place? Of course not. The right to bury someone is what is purchased. So to say the cemetery/synagogue doesn't own the land is ridiculous. And thousands of people bought perpetual care at the cemetery. Just go to the litigation website to learn more. I read the class action lawsuit was refiled in NY State Supreme Court so the case lives on. I hope the plaintiffs will prevail. Congregation Shaare Zedek has committed great shameful acts of disrespect on the 35,000 dead jewish people in the cemetery.

24

 Oct 22, 2009 at 02:16 PM yeapb Says:

I too have lnog wondered why our youth can't help out in situations like this, it certainly is better than just hanging out. Also, what about all those organisations constantly asking for money to preserve the European cemetaries, what about the ones in the U.S. like this?

25

 Oct 22, 2009 at 05:51 PM Askupeh Says:

Bayside Cemetery is 13 or so acres with about 35,000 graves. Here is more (http://citynoise.org/article/8696), (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayside_Acacia_Cemetery,_Queens).

26

 Oct 22, 2009 at 05:20 PM Askupeh Says:

Reply to #23  
Anonymous Says:

The comments above about burial societies owning the cemetery and not paying for perpetual care at Bayside Cemetery is simply NOT TRUE. Go to http://www.baysidecemeterylitigation.com to learn more. Congregation Shaare Zedek misappropriated (stole?) over $5 million of the cemetery's funds to do things like fix the synagogue's roof. They admitted that in a recent NY Daily News article. By the way, do you think that when someone buys a burial plot at a cemetery that a real estate transaction takes place? Of course not. The right to bury someone is what is purchased. So to say the cemetery/synagogue doesn't own the land is ridiculous. And thousands of people bought perpetual care at the cemetery. Just go to the litigation website to learn more. I read the class action lawsuit was refiled in NY State Supreme Court so the case lives on. I hope the plaintiffs will prevail. Congregation Shaare Zedek has committed great shameful acts of disrespect on the 35,000 dead jewish people in the cemetery.

The state of affairs with “Perpetual Upkeep” or leaving it in trust has become a real travesty. Look, the great Tzaddik Moshe Montefiore who risked his life many times for Klal Yisroel left his huge estate with all assurances that his Mausoleum and Synagogue will be taken care of. Guess what? The money can’t be found and if they could, they probably would remove Montifiore to Madigascar. Same is with the great philanthropist Yehuda Touro (friend of Montifiore) who left tons of money and assurances and the Touro Synagogue is out of money. Same is with the Rabbinate of London’s library which was sold off to pay for the expenses of the living. If Montifiore and Touro end up like this, what can WE expect?

If anyone wants to organize anything out there, please let us know here; I too want to participate.

27

 Oct 22, 2009 at 02:22 PM Legal fees Says:

I was just wondering, does anyone know if there were legal fees charged here or did the lawyers for BOTH side do this pro bono. If they paid money to attorneys over the last 2 years it would be a shame since that money could have gone to clean the place up.

28

 Oct 22, 2009 at 08:40 PM Anonymous Says:

In Massachusetts they created the "Jewish Cemetery Assoc. to manage and clean up the cemeteries of long defunct synagogues. We can't we do something like this in NY? Perhaps this org. could be contacted for advice.

29

 Oct 22, 2009 at 08:35 PM Anonymous Says:

When things like this occur in the abandoned cemeteries in Europe the whole world gets excited ans it's called antisemitism. But here it happens twenty minutes from Boro Park and nobody cares. How sad.

30

 Oct 22, 2009 at 09:24 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14
I too have grandparents in the Old Montefiore cemetary, but on the opposite side of the grounds from Rabbi Schneerson, in an older, more dense area. On a visit there last year, I was warned by the caretaker about the numerous stray dogs prowling in the cemetary and occasionally attacking visitors. When I checked again a few months ago, they said they had removed about 7 dogs, but there were still more and reports of attacks. I really can't understand how the cemetary can't just get rid of this problem altogether. We hurried our visit for fear of our safety. This apparently was not a concern though, at the area of the Ohel, where numerous people were coming and going.

As for the Bayside Acacia situation, I looked at the photos on the citinoise website some time ago and was horrified. I do know of someone who is buried in one of those 3 adjacent cemetaries, not sure which, and I would also be willing to offer physical labor such as I am capable of, if someone would organize a volunteer project. Having seen the extent of decay and damage in the photos, though, I would agree that it calls for professional intervention, at least in a supervisory capacity.

31

 Oct 22, 2009 at 11:40 PM mp Says:

Reply to #4  
Aharon Says:

Rather than attacking Miss Julie why don't yungerleit volunteer to do chesed shel emes and clean the place up?

i m ready how about you

32

 Oct 22, 2009 at 11:31 PM chaim Says:

I would like to volunteer does any one know who to contact and I wouldn't mind help from others who would like to join

33

 Oct 23, 2009 at 08:51 AM me too Says:

I think if word got out with details , u would see volunteers and money come forth. I don't read the daiky news so this is the 1st time I'm hearing of this . let's all mobilize and do this mitzvah . but I think the hesiatation might be to not involve rabbi julie, as she clearly wouldn't have the faintist idea as to the complicated halachos of buriel that these people expected . where do I sign up? thank u vin for bringing this up. please stick to this story as u will also have a chelek in dmitzvah

34

 Oct 23, 2009 at 01:12 AM formally Says:

Reply to #15  
Anonymous Says:

"Yeshivas are always looking for chesed projects - here is exercise and fresh air"

I'm not sure about the fresh air part of your suggestion, but promoting "exercise" is mamash apikorsus for yeshiva bochurim.

why don't some that have children in yeshiva (i do not have) and speak to the rosh yeshiva to see if they can make a project of it for the bochrem. a school outing

35

 Oct 23, 2009 at 01:00 PM Anonymous Says:

For those who might be ready to volunteer I would suggest looking at the numerous photos and ongoing blog posts regarding the cemeteries at the citinoise website. On the home page I put in the keywords "Bayside Acacia Cemetery". It is worthwhile to understand the scope of the problem. There are some very dedicated people on that site who have already organized volunteering days, but almost all agree that their efforts were a drop in the ocean........ In addition, they speak of a (semi-professional) ecological survey done at Columbia University a few years ago, which advised that a proper clean up at Bayside cemetery would run into hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of labor. So many people seem to want to do something.....but feel the enormity of the project renders them helpless.

36

 Oct 24, 2009 at 09:58 PM Anonymous Says:

Something should be done. There is no greater chilul than the lack of kavod hames! Hopefully, if these things are true, that now something will be done to correct them. Hashem yerachem!

37

 Oct 26, 2009 at 07:08 PM Embarrassed Conservative Jew Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

RavAndelman is a highly regard rabbanit and recognized scholar. Her point is simple. The shul simply serves as the administrator for the many burial societies that actually own the gravesites and have contracted for perpetual care which they never paid for. The shul does not have the resources to pay these costs for all the societies. This is a collective obligation for the entire NYC jewish community and not just one shul. Rather than wasting money on big parties, concerts, day trips and fabrengens such as we saw on chol ha'moed succos and simchas beis ha'shoaevah, why didn't all the rabbonim throughout the city, including BP, WB etc. issue a directive to spend the time with shovels and rakes and begin cleaning up these cemetaries. This is not the only one in this condition.

No wonder you are Anonymous. Your "facts" are simply not true and you are hiding behind the spin of the lawyers in the case. Since by NYS law, cemetery plots cannot be sold, it is the shul that owns the cemetery and every plot in it, and it is the shul that has the ultimate obligation to keep it up. Perhaps if they didn't raid the perpetual care funds (as they have admitted) to fix their synagogue roof and who knows what else... and perhaps if they didn't have a habit of losing the financial records (note: ONLY the cemetery records were lost, not the shul's records) maybe someone could believe them. But as long as they obfuscate, and ignore their responsibility as (1) legal custodians, (2) actual receivers of the money, and (3) Jews, they are completely liable and cannot pawn this off on the Jewish community at large (as they try to do at every turn. SHAME on SZ's rabbi, board and officers. Before they do "social justice" mitzvot for Dafur, and world peace, they should clean up their own cemetery... but they won't. It's far easier to focus on a problem somewhere across the planet where success or failure will not touch your daily life, than to accept responsibility for your own actions.

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