Black Market for Jewish Grave Sites Grows on Web

Skirting Law, Some Peddle Cemetery Plots in Classified Ads

Have I Got a Grave for You: Plots at Jewish cemeteries are being hawked on the internet and through classified ads, even though state laws prohibit such transactions.
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Have I Got a Grave for You: Plots at Jewish cemeteries are being hawked on the internet and through classified ads, even though state laws prohibit such transactions.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 14, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
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A burial society isn’t allowed to reject the cemetery’s offer. If a cemetery is interested, the society can’t offer the graves on the open market. Yet that’s exactly what Eric did. He turned to the classified pages of the Forward, where he said he had seen other societies selling their plots. Eric’s ads offer “Individual or multiple plots” for $1,900 each. “Includes all fees,” the ads note.

According to Warren Rosen, an official at Beth David, the cemetery currently sells plots for about $3,500 each. Rosen said that Beth David had not turned down any offer to buy the empty Przedborzer plots.

Eric said he has sold about half of the society’s 20 graves. He has spent the profits on family expenses, including health care for his aging parents and tuition for his children.

“It’s not like I’m engaging with any debauchery with the money,” Eric said.

Roslyn Gersten, who runs a classified in the Forward advertising the sale of 200 graves owned by a defunct society called Congregation Nusach Sfard at Cedar Park & Beth-El, a Paramus, N.J., cemetery, said that the income from the graves she sells is donated to charity.

Gersten said that she had sold 80 to 100 graves at $950 each.

“We give to only Jewish organizations,” Gersten said. “As they come in, I dole out the money.”

Gersten said that proceeds from the sales of the graves had been given to the Zionist Organization of America, a right-wing pro-Israel group, among other organizations.

Wherever the profits go, experts say that the societies shouldn’t have received them in the first place.

New York State’s top cemetery regulator, Division of Cemeteries director Richard Fishman, told the Forward that people who sell New York graves owned by societies on the open market are committing a misdemeanor under the state’s not-for-profit code, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a jail term of up to six months for each sale. Fishman admitted that no one had ever actually been charged with a misdemeanor for the offense.

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