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Though some of Neiman’s Craigslist ads include the phrase “Jewish society,” all read as ads for cemetery plots, not burial society membership.
“It’s a subterfuge,” said Fishman, the cemetery regulator of claims such as Neiman’s. “These graves were sold for a specific purpose to an organization that has now basically died out…. What these guys are doing is selling their remaining graves to nonmembers with the idea of making them members, but there is no real organization per se, and they’re charging a lot of money for this privilege.”
Fishman said that he has complained to Craigslist about ads for burial plots in the past, and that those ads have been removed. Betheil said he opposed the Forward’s decision to accept the ads.
“Would we want to discourage that practice? Yes,” Betheil said of the Forward’s classifieds.
Forward business staff said that the newspaper could not screen each classified advertisement for a cemetery plot for legality. “The Forward won’t knowingly abet illegal or abusive business practices,” said Surman. “But we can’t determine the legality of plot transfers offered in our classified section. Cemetery regulations can be complex and they vary significantly by state, and sometimes even by county or town.”
Classified advertising sections in recent editions of other area Jewish newspapers do carry ads for individuals selling off small numbers of family plots. Eric told the Forward that he had placed ads for his society’s graves in other Jewish newspapers. However, a review of recent editions of five New York and New Jersey Jewish newspapers showed no other papers running classified ads that appeared to be advertising plots on behalf of burial societies.
For Betheil, the problem isn’t just that the sales break New York law.
“There’s going to be a time when every cemetery… is going to find itself without graves to sell, and the finances of the cemetery become much more precarious at that point,” Betheil said. “It’s really their investments and their land sales that make the difference.
“Unlike most entities, [cemeteries are] designed to be here forever.”