Ask those in the know who the highest paid executives at Jewish not-for-profits are, and you are likely to hear about salaries at groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center or any number of big-city Jewish federations. But as it turns out, a Jewish executive at a not-for-profit cemetery in northern New Jersey is paid more than nearly any other Jewish communal official in the country.
Cedar Park & Beth El Cemetery’s president, Herbert B. Klapper, took home a base salary of $729,000 in 2009, according to tax documents. That’s more than any Jewish federation executive in the United States, not to mention the heads of all but one major Jewish defense agency.
Only one other not-for-profit cemetery in the country with comparable revenues paid its top executive a higher salary in 2009, according to a national not-for-profit compensation database. That cemetery, which is not Jewish, had assets three and a half times larger than those of Cedar Park.
Cedar Park general manager Lawrence Rose defended Klapper’s compensation, citing the cemetery’s “state of the art facilities.”
In 2000, Klapper and two other individuals now affiliated with Cedar Park were forced to give up their leadership roles at three New York cemetery corporations upon signing an assurance of discontinuance with the New York State attorney general, who accused them of receiving unfair compensation.
Read the Forward’s story about Jewish cemetery managers’ top concerns. Late-night voodoo and grave-selling top the list.
Despite the allegations leveled at Klapper and two of his current colleagues by the New York attorney general, the organization has had no trouble with New Jersey regulators. Experts and watchdogs claim that regulation is lax in the state, in part because half of the people who sit on the state board that regulates cemeteries are themselves cemetery industry officials.
“In New Jersey you have [cemetery officials] who are regulating themselves,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis. “It’s our community that is paying the price for the lack of regulation.”
Cedar Park is a sprawling, 300-acre cemetery in Paramus, N.J. From the back of the lush lot, the front gate feels miles away. The property’s office shares a building with a massive mausoleum called the Sanctuary of Abraham and Sarah, where crypts are stacked level upon level to the towering ceiling.
On a recent late spring afternoon, scores of gardeners and gravediggers were swarming the well-kept grounds. At an interfaith mausoleum on the property, an honor guard waited outside as a casket was placed in a crypt. The cemetery buries two to 25 people per day. Roughly 100,000 bodies have been interred on the property during its more than 75 years in operation.
Klapper, who was said to be out of the office when the Forward visited the cemetery, is the president of three related not-for-profit entities that control the cemetery. He receives a salary from each of the entities. According to publicly available Internal Revenue Service records, his $729,165 total salary from these three entities in 2009 was matched or exceeded during the previous two years.