New York State officials have interceded in the case of a defunct Jewish burial society that was selling graves on the open market, effectively forcing the society to give up its remaining plots.
At least eight people who purchased graves at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, N.Y., from the Przedborzer Friends Society received letters in March from the New York State Department of State’s Division of Cemeteries informing them that their purchases were invalid.
The cemetery now says that it has reached a deal with Eric Bennett, president of the Przedborzer Friends Society, by which the purchases will be honored by the cemetery in return for the society turning over its remaining graves to the cemetery.
“I’ve spoken to Mr. Bennett and he is going to release the remaining vacant graves to the cemetery and that will effectively take care of the problem,” Beth David President Warren Rosen told the Forward.
Prior to the deal, purchasers of the graves found themselves left in the lurch. One retired teacher, speaking before the cemetery and the society came to their agreement, was livid. “He cheated me out of two thousand bucks,” said Irving Slayton, 89, referring to Bennett. “I thought everything was exactly right.
But [the letter from the state says] this is all null and void.”
The black market sales were first reported by the Forward in March.
Burial societies own vast tracts of unused graves in New York-area Jewish cemeteries. Originally founded to help defray burial costs for members, many of those societies now have no members left. The people who control the societies are often the children and grandchildren of former officers. State law in New York severely limits what the current officers can do with the societies’ graves. If they want to sell them, they must offer the graves at artificially low prices to the cemetery where they are located. That allows the cemeteries to flip the graves and sell them at market rates, producing income that can help the cemeteries maintain their grounds after all the plots are filled.
If a cemetery is interested in buying back the graves, the burial society is forbidden by law from turning down their offer and selling the graves on the open market. Yet that’s exactly what Bennett, president of the Przedborzer Friends Society, told the Forward he had done in a story published in March.