28 June 2008

Resting in peace? Not without a deed

Steve Lasky, who does a great job with his virtual Museum of Jewish Family History, discussed a problem that might occur if you are a member of a burial society, entitled to a burial plot as a membership benefit and don't have a deed.

Although New York state is working on legislation to deal with these issues, don't count on any results until at least next year.

Steve  pointed to Stewart Ain's excellent article in the New York Jewish Week on the nightmarish situation faced by some families.

Sometimes societies, e.g. landsmanshaftn, go officially defunct without handing out deeds to individual burial plots to its members; sometime the society doesn't officially become defunct, but there is no society officer left to tell a cemetery that a person rightfully has a plot reserved. This can and has been a nightmare for many people over time. There are many variations of this problem, of course, and many stories to be told.

There are thousands of empty plots, e.g., in New York area cemeteries, because many societies have become defunct, leaving many empty and unused plots. The cemetery isn't permitted to sell these graves to anyone else.

Many know that burial plots are running out here in New York and land is too expensive to build new cemeteries. The article said that recently, Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, home to 200,000 burials, sold its last empty gravesite.
According to Ain's article, defunct burial societies control thousands of unused graves in otherwise overcrowded cemeteries. Getting proof of a plot can be a family's worst nightmare.

After her husband's death in 1988, Florence Marmor of the City Line section of Brooklyn contacted her husband's family burial society and bought him a grave and another for herself.

After a few weeks, she called the cemetery, Mount Hebron in Flushing, Queens, and learned that the grave next to her husband's had not been reserved for her. She then called but failed to speak with the officer of the society, Trembowler True Sisters, who had deposited her check but never acknowledged it in writing or sent her a deed for the plot.

Marmor said she let the matter slip until four years ago when, at her family's urging, she tried again to contact the officer. This time, her letters were sent back and the officer's phone was disconnected.

The burial society, she learned through a lawyer, was effectively defunct though not formally dissolved. Marmor was at a crossroads. Plots in Jewish cemeteries throughout the city have been filling up quickly - in fact today the shortage of plots at a number of cemeteries is beginning to approach a crisis.

Read more to see how Marmor took over the society and solved her problem.

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