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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Cemetery law is slightly different in New Jersey. There, societies are similarly barred from reselling their plots on the open market, and cemeteries are entitled to seize a society’s plots if that society has been found to be reselling them, according to a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. There is no possibility of prosecution.

In an email, Gersten told the Forward said that she had offered the plots back to the New Jersey cemetery where her society owns its plots and that it had declined to purchase them. She also said that she makes the maintenance and preservation fund payments required by law with each transfer.

That Gersten offered the graves to the cemetery should not make a difference under New Jersey law; the buy-back provision appears to be exclusive to New York. It does suggest, however, that the cemetery may have been aware of her activities and chose not to exercise its option to repossess her plots. The cemetery, Cedar Park & Beth-El, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the Forward.

In New York, where the law is stricter, some burial society officers argue that their sales can be construed as efforts to find new members for their societies. “Who’s to say that I’m not selling to members of the organization?” Eric said. When people contact him about the ads he’s placed in the Forward, Eric said that he explains to them that they are joining a burial society. “You don’t have to go to any meetings, but now you’ve just joined the burial society,” Eric said he tells them.

Since last December, a man named Jack Neiman has posted at least nine free ads on Craigslist offering plots at Montefiore Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Queens, for $1,500. A representative of Montefiore said that the cemetery charges $4,500 for plots like the ones Neiman is selling.

Neimen’s ads, which differ slightly from each other, are somewhat disjointed. Most include the phrase “This plot is located in a nice location and we are asking $1,500.” The ads note that the price is “negotiable.”

Contacted by the Forward, Neiman said that he led the Podembitzer Benevolent Society, a 107-year-old landsmanschaft that once maintained an address on East Broadway on the Lower East Side.

“I’m not reselling, I’m getting members,” Neiman told the Forward. “That’s the initiation fee. $1,500 to get in.”

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