Accountability and transparency within our institutions and leadership.
posted by jewishwhistleblower @ 4:53 AM
The Yonkers cemetery case proves one thing, if you desecrate Jewish graves you will prosper.How you ask?1) Small fines that still make it profitable.2) JWB has learned that the fines will likely go towards a non-profit that will use the funds to restore/clean-up the mess in other Jewish cemeteries in NY State, directly benefiting the treasurer/former head of OHEL's David Jacobson's cemetery. Jacobson's business is perhaps the largest desecrator of Jewish graves nationwide with over 11,000 graves (mainly children's) having had markers and headstones removed and destroyed.see:http://web.archive.org/web/20020529055836/http://www.jewishinterest.com/http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.jewishinterest.com
1)http://www.nynews.com/newsroom/012505/a0125cemetery.htmlDispute over Jewish cemetery in Yonkers is settledAt issueState law that says a nonprofit organization can sell real property only if it gets a fair price in a deal that must be approved by a court, with input from the state attorney general. In this case, the price was not a direct payment to the nonprofit that owned the cemetery. Instead, a developer offered to move the bodies to a better cared-for cemetery. But if far fewer bodies were moved than expected, then the cost of moving them was lower than the attorney general and the court had expected. The developer's representatives argued that it should have been obvious that fewer bodies were removed when the contractor told the court he had removed all that he could find. By KEN VALENTI THE JOURNAL NEWS (Original publication: January 25, 2005)WHITE PLAINS — The developer of the Costco-Home Depot shopping center in Yonkers agreed yesterday to create a memorial to an Orthodox Jewish cemetery that was moved from the site in 1989, and to fund research into who had been buried there. The settlement between developer Robert Morris of Morris Industrial Builders and representatives of state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer came in the courtroom of state Supreme Court Justice Joan Lefkowitz, where they had gone to argue over the mystery of the graves of 135 children whose remains were not accounted for before the cemetery was demolished. Assistant Attorney General Gary S. Brown put the settlement at $100,000. Morris representatives declined to discuss the exact amount. Philip Halpern, Morris' attorney, said it was never shown that the bodies said to be missing ever existed. He said the developer had helped the owners of the cemetery, Congregation People of Righteousness, by moving the graves from a vandalized cemetery to a better one in Israel. "I think it's a complete vindication of Mr. Morris and his reputation, which is what this was about," Halpern said of the settlement. "Mr. Morris decided that rather than pay lawyers to joust for weeks, he decided that, since he had started out doing a good thing, he would finish by doing a good thing." Brown filed a case against the developer last year after it was discovered that the remains of only 12 or 13 identified children had been moved, while 147 graves for children were marked on a map of the half-acre cemetery. The hope of finding any more remains is slim at best. Construction workers dug so deep to build the shopping center, that the upper parking level, for the Costco store, is actually below where the graves were, Brown said. Brown said yesterday that the settlement called on Morris to give everything Brown had asked. He said the "central unanswered question" was the discrepancy between the number of bodies thought to have been in the cemetery and the number that were actually found. The settlement, he said, will allow for a historian to be retained to resolve that question. Any money left over after the monument is created and the historian is paid will go to a philanthropic organization that the court will approve, Lefkowitz said in announcing the settlement. In his opening statement, Brown questioned whether the bodies had been moved properly, noting that some bodies taken from single graves in Yonkers were placed in double graves in Israel and that an unidentified number of children were placed in a single grave, developments he called disturbing. "So it's not just a case about money," he said. "It's also a case about whether those human remains were fully accounted for and whether they were handled properly and with dignity." Halpern disputed the accusations. "My client did a good thing, and Mr. Brown is trying to turn it into a sinister one," he said. Michael McFadden of Plaza Memorial Chapel — now called Plaza Community Chapel — was hired by Morris to remove the bodies. An attorney for Plaza has said McFadden conducted the survey of the cemetery always with at least one rabbi to guide him and ensure that the removals were carried out properly. Brown took the developer to court alleging that Morris had failed to follow state laws regarding nonprofit organizations. Under the law, nonprofit groups, such as the congregation, must receive a fair price when they sell property. In this case, the payment to the congregation was the removal of the cemetery. Send e-mail to Ken Valenti 2)http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/531757.htmlLast Update: 25/01/2005NY developer agrees to monument near paved-over Jewish cemetery by The Associated Press WHITE PLAINS, New York - A real estate developer has agreed to erect a monument near the site of a former Jewish cemetery that was paved over to make way for three big stores. Morris Industrial Builders also agreed to research the history of the people once buried there. All remains were to be removed and reburied in Israel, though concerns arose about whether that pact was fulfilled.Monday's agreements were part of a $100,000 settlement of a case brought by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who last year claimed more than 100 children may have been left behind when the bodies were disinterred in 1989 to make way for Costco Wholesale Corp., Home Depot Inc. and Stew Leonard's stores in Yonkers. A lawyer for the developer denied the claim.The case began when the People of Righteousness, a declining Jewish congregation with only five elderly members, agreed to give up the cemetery land for development without receiving any payment if Morris would arrange a reburial in Israel. The congregation had been unable to protect its cemetery against vandalism and overgrowth.The settlement came just hours after the start of a trial Monday.Morris' lawyer, Philip Halpern, said the company decided to "spend the money commemorating the memory of the deceased rather than pay lawyers to fight over documents." He said there was no admission of "inappropriate behavior or improper conduct" and maintained all the bodies in the cemetery had been reburied.Any money left after the monument is built and the research is completed will go to "an appropriate nonprofit organization," said Avi Schick, a lawyer in Spitzer's office. 3)http://www.guardian.co.uk/uslatest/story/0,1282,-4753708,00.htmlN.Y. Developer Agrees to Cemetery Monument Tuesday January 25, 2005 3:01 AMBy JIM FITZGERALD Associated Press Writer WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) - A real estate developer agreed Monday to erect a monument near the site of a former Jewish cemetery that was paved over to make way for three big-box stores. Morris Industrial Builders also agreed to research the history of the people once buried there. All remains were to be removed and reburied in Israel, though concerns arose about whether that pact was fulfilled. Monday's agreements were part of a $100,000 settlement of a case brought by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who last year claimed more than 100 children may have been left behind when the bodies were disinterred in 1989 to make way for Costco Wholesale Corp., Home Depot Inc. and Stew Leonard's stores in Yonkers. A lawyer for the developer denied the claim. The case began when the People of Righteousness, a declining Jewish congregation with only five elderly members, agreed to give up the cemetery land for development without receiving any payment if Morris would arrange a reburial in Israel. The congregation had been unable to protect its cemetery against vandalism and overgrowth. The settlement came just hours after the start of a trial Monday. Morris' lawyer, Philip Halpern, said the company decided to ``spend the money commemorating the memory of the deceased rather than pay lawyers to fight over documents.'' He said there was no admission of ``inappropriate behavior or improper conduct'' and maintained all the bodies in the cemetery had been reburied. Any money left after the monument is built and the research is completed will go to ``an appropriate nonprofit organization,'' said Avi Schick, a lawyer in Spitzer's office. 4)http://www.wnbc.com/news/4126201/detail.htmlDeveloper Settles Lawsuit After Cemetery Paved OverCemetery Moved For Costco, Home Depot, Stew Leonard'sA real estate developer agreed Monday to erect a monument near the site of a former Jewish cemetery that was paved over for big-box stores alongside the state Thruway.The developer, Morris Industrial Builders, is also to research the history of the people who were buried there before it arranged to have them disinterred and reburied in Israel.The agreements were part of a $100,000 settlement of a case brought against Morris by state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who claimed last year that more than 100 children may have been left behind when the bodies were disinterred in 1989 to make way for Costco Wholesale Corp., Home Depot Inc. and Stew Leonard's stores in Yonkers. A lawyer for the developer said no bodies were left behind.The case began when the People of Righteousness, a declining Jewish congregation with only five elderly members, agreed to give up the cemetery land for development without receiving any payment if Morris would arrange a reburial in Israel. The congregation had been unable to protect its cemetery against vandalism and overgrowth.In his opening statement Monday morning, Spitzer lawyer Gary Brown said the case was "about a real estate deal, about consideration, about money. Were the terms fair and reasonable? But it's ... also a case about whether those human remains were fully accounted for and whether they were handled properly and with dignity."Settlement talk began at lunchtime, and the agreement was reached Monday afternoon and approved by state Supreme Court Justice Joan Lefkowitz.Morris' lawyer, Philip Halpern, said the company decided to "spend the money commemorating the memory of the deceased rather than pay lawyers to fight over documents." He said there was no admission of "inappropriate behavior or improper conduct" and maintained that all the bodies in the cemetery had been reburied.Any money left from the $100,000 settlement after the monument is built and the research is completed will go to "an appropriate nonprofit organization," said Avi Schick, a lawyer in Spitzer's office."From the outset, the attorney general was most interested in obtaining a settlement on terms that insured that never again will a developer be permitted to move a cemetery merely because it stood in the way of what he wanted to build," Schick said. "This settlement on these terms insures that any future suggestion will be met with great skepticism and will be looked at with enormous scrutiny."Spitzer's office began an investigation when a relative of one of the dead, unaware of the agreement to move the bodies, complained that he could not find out where his relative's body had been taken.A check of the Eretz Hachaim Cemetery in Jerusalem, to which the more than 200 bodies were to be taken, found only about 65 adult graves and a dozen children's graves from the Yonkers site, Spitzer's office said.Schick said there was no evidence of any congregation members still alive.
David Jacobson:http://web.archive.org/web/20020608044703/www.jewishinterest.com/MokomSholom/mokomcont.htmMore Grave Disclosures Moshe A. Handler © December 1997 When we published the story of how thousands of headstones were removed from Mokom Sholom, a Jewish Cemetery in Queens, in our last issue, we knew there would be strong reaction. The reaction was overwhelmingly magnificent, yet apparently we have still not been able to resolve the problem. It seems, our allegations were so shocking that many Vaad members simply could not believe them. Nevertheless, the evidence is there if only anyone would care to examine it. So, in this issue we will present even more evidence proving that Rabbi Elchonon Zohn has led a deliberate campaign to mislead many of his fellow Vaad members not only in the issue of Mokom Sholom but on other issues as well. First a correction. Rabbi Zohn's son does not work for David Jacobson. It was two of David Jacobson's son's that worked for Rabbi Zohn. Currently, one of these son's is listed as director of "Kehilla," a chapel based in Flatbush. Kehilla does almost all burials for UHC (United Hebrew Community or Adath Yisroel,) having taken over all funerals that used to be done by Kirschenbaum Brothers). Guess who's the director of UHC? David Jacobson, operator of Mokom Sholom Cemetery. Guess who is now called in from Queens to provide Taharas for almost all Kehilla burials? Rabbi Elchonon Zohn. Again this confirms my original contention. Rabbi Zohn has no business ruling on any Halochos involving Jacobson cemeteries. He is by any standard considered "Nogaya Badovor." In our last issue we started listing (and published) some of our evidence that Mokom Sholom grave sites have been tampered with. One of our strongest pieces of evidence are before and after pictures of Mokom Sholom. Our 1954 aerial photo (provided to us by a congressman) shows that the Mokom Sholom cemetery was landscaped with many trees. Between the trees it was very easy to see headstones in areas that showed through. To appreciate these photos, they must be viewed clearly. It is for that reason that they are not printed here, however, we invite and ask all interested parties to view them with full contrast and brightness at our internet site (www.jewishinterest.com) One look will remove all doubts. We also published a letter from a Mr. Hyman Drucker in which he complained about the missing headstone of his grandmother. Mr. Drucker wrote of how he was told by a Mr. Shwartz "that in an effort to improve the appearance of Mokom Sholom cemetery many stones were removed." Not only was this letter further corroboration that most of the stones were removed in a wholesale fashion from Mokom Sholom in the sixties, it's remarkable that the letter matches the time-frame that the aerial photos show the cemetery was cleared. Additionally Mr. Drucker's letter pins down the location of Mokom Sholom graves. It's exactly where we say they are, not "unknown" as claimed by Rabbi Zohn at the Vaad. We have now been in contact with Mr. Drucker's son who again can confirm the entire story. We published a letter from Rabbi Elyoshuv of Israel in which he ruled that Mokom Sholom had to be returned to it's previous state. He ruled that it was absolutely forbidden to cover Mokom Sholom over and make new burials. This ruling showed that we had presented enough evidence to a "Godol Hador" so that he ruled Mokom Sholom a cemetery that was forbidden to be touched. Rav Elyoshuv's ruling should have ended the Mokom Sholom controversy right then and there. Yet, on September 14, 1997, eight members of the Vaad of Queens were still discussing whether to cover over Mokom Sholom or not. Why did they not accept the ruling of Rav Elyoshuv? If they did accept the ruling of Rav Elyoshuv why would they refuse to say so publicly? Here is some new evidence I've uncovered since our last issue. As I wrote, representatives of the Queens Vaad spent three days in Eretz Yisroel trying to get Rav Elyoshuv to agree to allow Mokom Sholom Cemetery to be covered. Rav Elyoshuv refused to change his ruling. The Rabbi who argued the case for allowing the covering of the cemetery was Rabbi Zohn himself. (This fact can easily be checked with a call to Rabbi Elyoshuv's office.) I made the call. They also confirmed that the ruling was not overturned. Yet, when Rabbi Zohn returned from Israel, he himself told members of the Vaad that Rav Elyoshuv had allowed new burials and he would soon be in possession of written confirmation that the ruling was changed. That written confirmation, of course never came. To this day he cannot produce it. There are some hard questions that must be asked. Why was Rabbi Zohn so insistent on getting a "heter" to cover over old burials and make new burials on top? Was there a Halachic need for this? Why did he lie when he came back from Israel and say he had the "heter" when in fact he didn't?" The fact is, Rabbi Zohn has lied directly to myself, David Gevertzman and Florence Marmor. To me, he promised that if any evidence could be provided that there were burials in Mokom Sholom he would do everything in his power to stop new burials. To David, he promised that if any burials were proven, he would fight to stop the two tier cemetery. He repeated this lie to Florence Marmor and even promised her that if proof was provided he would pay for a monument to be erected out of his own pocket. He patiently explained to Florence, that the monument could not list all the names of the dead since he could not afford such an expensive monument. Later, after being presented with evidence that the cemetery was full, his story changed. He then told David that the cemetery needed the money that would come in from the new burials.. He gave David Gevertzman an explanation that the sefer "Kol Bo" allowed double burials Halachically and that he would follow that principle. (We tried to find that heter in the sefer but were unable to. The closest mention we could find is that it was done in a case where new cemetery land was not available. If anything, our translation of the "Kol Bo" seemed to indicate that it ruled old cemeteries must be protected.) He then told David and other people that he had a ruling from Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav Dovid Cohen, and Rabbi Zelig Epstein allowing him to do double burials at Mokom Sholom. (I doubt that these Rabbonim ever said anything of the kind.) Of course when I met Rabbi Zohn for the first time (at Ach Tov restaurant in Brooklyn) he told me the following: He swore to me that if evidence were brought to him showing any kind of burials at Mokom Sholom, he would fight to the death to defend that cemetery and make sure new burials would not take place. At that time I believed him. During that same meeting, he characterized David Jacobson as a ruthless businessman and told me that Jacobson does not do Taharas "K'Daas U'Kdin". Specifically, he told me that Jacobson Taharas were done with too few people and that he had complained to Jacobson, asking him to stop putting bodies into coffins that were too small to contain the bodies in a respectful fashion. He also complained of Jacobson's practice of putting coffins into graves at an uncomfortable angles in order to use smaller plots and thereby fit more graves in his cemeteries. Rabbi Zohn said he felt it was his duty to set Jacobson straight. I could not have gotten this inside information from anyone else except for Rabbi Zohn, and the fact that I have it should be a sign that I have spoken directly to Rabbi Zohn. Mokom Sholom is extremely important for the following reasons; It is not the exception, perhaps it illustrates an unwritten rule that cemetery operators remove headstones from old graves to make room for new burials, and benefit from the profits that come with this deed. The problem seems to occur in the smaller Jewish cemeteries (and some non-Jewish ones) where there is very little supervision and where the manager of the cemetery has very little to stop him. Because of laws that exempt religious cemeteries from state regulations. (Ironically these laws are meant to protect religious freedom) unscrupulous cemetery managers can take advantage. The most vulnerable graves are those of children. Graves of children are very often not visited since children do not have children of their own to honor them and perpetuate their memory. Additionally, the parents of children who have died over a hundred years ago are no longer alive to advocate for their grave sites. Mokom Sholom is an exception to the rule of these neglected cemeteries since it is one of the few cemeteries that has had extensive research done on it. In other words, gravestones are being removed in many cemeteries, but in Mokom Sholom, we can prove it. Incidentally almost eighty five percent of the total burials in Mokom Sholom are burials of children, infants and stillborns. A Rov from the Vaad HaRabonnim of Queens called me and complained: Why did I pick on Rabbi Zohn in my article? I explained. Rabbi Zohn has lied to us and contradicted himself on a consistent basis over the period of the last four years. He has shown a pattern of lying about Mokom Sholom to his own fellow members of the Vaad in Queens. I reminded him that when Rabbi Zohn returned from Israel, he told people that he had obtained a reversal from Rabbi Elyoshuv. He would soon have a letter from Rav Elyoshuv confirming the reversal of the P'sak. The letter never came because what actually happened was that Rav Elyoshuv never reversed the P'sak. There are witnesses to the fact that Rav Elyoshuv never changed the P'sak forbidding new burials. There are witnesses to the fact that Rabbi Zohn said he had a reversal. I told him that any Rov investigating this story needs to get direct answers from Rabbi Zohn to the following questions: 1. Is it true you promised Moshe Handler, David Gevertzman and Florence Marmor that you would not allow new burials at Mokom Sholom if evidence of old burials were presented? 2. If you claim you never promised this, then you must have been in favor of covering up old graves. Why would you want to do this, especially since this was never done previously except in extreme emergency such as when governments did not allow Jews to have new cemeteries? (Even in these cases the new graves had headstones with the names of both buried people on them.) 3. Why did you find such a strong need to cover a known cemetery that you actually flew down to Eretz Yisroel and spent three days in a row at Rav Elyoshuv, trying to get permission to throw new dirt over old graves? 4. Rabbi Zohn, did you feel you would benefit financially either directly or indirectly by getting this "heter?" 5. Is it true that you told Moish Handler, when you met him in front of Rabbi Steinberg's Shul on September 14, 1997, that if he had not published the original story about Mokom Sholom in The Jewish Interest Magazine, Mokom Sholom would be already covered over and would have new burials in it today? (Careful when you answer this one Rabbi Zohn, both Rabbi Steinberg and Bernie Fryshman were present at the time and heard you make this statement.) 6. Although I originally felt that all of the Vaad were culpable in this story, after checking with sources, I have been told that most members of the Vaad are very "Erlich" and have provided a great service to the residents of Queens, Nassau County, Monsey and Long Island. There are members of the Vaad that are surely to be respected as true Talmedie Chachomim. Still, good people can be fooled and the good people in the Vaad have been fooled by Rabbi Zohn. The Vaad should concentrate on whether the charges I made were true and should have questioned Rabbi Zohn, demanding to understand all the details of what happened. At the moment this is not what is being done. Some respected Rabbonim who are well known to the public, have been threatened with dire consequences if they dare speak to me. This behavior is more suited to a Clinton White House then to a Vaad. Rabbi Zohn has managed to put Vaad members into crisis mode. The are so busy doing damage control they have forgotten to check if the information is true. (It surely is) These Rabbonim need keep focused on the main issue. These tactics are to keep them from getting information from me, not to keep me from getting information from them. There already are quite a few Vaad members who gladly speak to me and beg me to expose the wrongs they no longer wish to be part of. I urge the good Vaad members to continue to gather courage and go public with their refusal to participate in these heinous crimes against the Jewish dead. It is incredible to sense the fear in world respected Rabbis as they beg me not to reveal it was they who gave me the information. (I won't) I applaud Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld for at least protesting strongly against Mokom Sholom double burials in previous meetings. I wish him the strength to continue to be on the correct side of this issue. 7. If Rabbi Zohn Accepted the ruling of Rav Elyoshuv then why was there still a meeting in September to discuss whether Mokom Sholom should be filled with six feet of new earth or not? Why would Rabbonim still be arguing the merits of the case when Rav Elyoshuv had already ruled on this issue two years before? 8. Rabbi Zohn is supposed to be the Orthodox Jewish representative to the New York State Cemetery Commission. He attends their meetings and advises them on future laws affecting cemeteries. Why is a man who is supposed to be representing us and advocating for us so intent on destroying old Jewish graves? Why would he refuse to publicly announce Mokom Sholom full and provide markers so that future generations would keep this land sacred? 9. Last year, during construction of a downtown project in Manhattan an old black slave cemetery was discovered. Construction was immediately stopped and there was no question these graves would be respected. Why would a Jewish Rabbi not want to show the same respect to a Jewish cemetery in Queens? 10. In the meantime, I hope that the Vaad will start asking tough questions of Rabbi Zohn. I have tried to reach out and call some members privately in the past few weeks and most have expressed fear of the repercussions they would suffer if they spoke to me. Some have expressed how sad it is that the Vaad has fallen into the trap of raking in big money and has forgotten many Torah principles. 11. I would also urge elected officials not to fall for the strange story Rabbi Zohn has been feeding them. He keeps claiming that the Boro-Park Chevra Kadisha made up these stories about him because the Vaad of Queens now does Taharas in Brooklyn. This is a total fabrication and he knows it. I have been fighting Rabbi Zohn over Mokom Sholom for over four years, long before Jacobson brought him in to do Taharas in Brooklyn. No one could manufacture evidence such as the letter we now published from New York Recycling Company and the photos of thrown away grave-stones. The Queens Rabbi who spoke to me on behalf of Rabbi Zohn made one remarkable statement in his conversation. He told me "The Vaad really needs the money from Mokom Sholom." I promised him anonymity but I must ask you Rabbi. How far do you go to get money? Since writing the last article. I have been flooded with calls from all kinds of people whom have worked with Rabbi Zohn who have provided me with much information about the way he operates. I've heard complaints about his shouting and ranting at employees in the Tahara rooms (It is forbidden to speak while a Tahara is in progress.) I've heard from Funeral Directors of his constant intimidation of workers. One funeral director laughed as he told me Rabbi Zohn actually calls ahead and demands fresh pots of coffee be ready for him when he arrives. "It's not worth not putting up the coffee. When you don't follow Rabbi Zohn's demands no matter how silly they are you pay." Funeral homes working with Rabbi Zohn are pressured to buy hand made Tachrichim from a company called either HUSS or Solomon (they are the same) that works out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The whole point of hand made Tachrichim is that they are made by Jewish women, generally over fifty who have special Kavonos (thoughts) while they make them. The "Mais" has a special "Zchus" being clothed in garments made with these "kavonos" as he or she is buried. This has been a long time "Minhag Yisroel." For many years, the garments provided by the Vaad had the words "Naaseh al Yedie Shomer Shabbos." (Made by Sabbath observant Jews) on every package. This implied they met the highest standards of Tachrichim. A few years ago, it was suddenly discovered that HUSS manufactured these garments using the lowest paid non-Jewish workers they could find - good for business - not so good for families of deceased who were looking to provide their loved ones with a truly special (Hodor) Jewish burial and relied on the Vaad of Queens to provide it. What is the whole point of having a handmade garment when it would be impossible for that garment to be manufactured with the right "kavonos?" How did Rabbi Zohn react when it was discovered the labels on his Tachrichim were false? (As if he didn't know it beforehand?) He did not cut off the supplier. He had them put on a new label. It now reads "Naaseh Behashgochas Rav Yaakov Huss." (Made under the supervision of Rabbi Huss.) Every person who believes that "under a Rabbi's supervision" means that these garments are what they are represented to be is being fooled. If the Kashrus division of the Vaad would be doing this, it would be a major scandal. Is it right to rip off, mislead or in general cheat dead people and their families? (I'm sure Rabbi Zohn must have a "heter" for this) Perhaps Rabbi Zohn can explain this to the Vaad, but I wouldn't bet on it. Anyone who keeps silent about this matter when he can do something about it, is part of the problem. Readers who want to help can write or call one of the following numbers. You should be asking that Mokom Sholom cemetery should be declared a landmark so it will be out of reach from tampering by unscrupulous operators. You should ask for an investigation as to why stones were removed wholesale throughout the years and no one noticed. The more people that call the faster action will be taken.
http://web.archive.org/web/20000819151804/www.jewishinterest.com/MokomSholom/cemetery+mess.htmMore Grave Danger In Queenscopyright © 1997 Moshe A. Handler Important Correction: The printed version of our Jewish Interest Magazine inadvertently claimed that Rabbi Zohn's son worked for David Jacobson. The version of the article that should have been printed is this one with the correct claim that two of David Jacobson's sons had worked for Rabbi Zohn. We regret the error due to the wrong draft of the story going to print. This draft is the correct one.We regret our error.This is an article that I have spent over two years trying not to write. I have no choice now. Two separate Rabbonim have ruled that I am under Halachic obligation to write it. They feel that the only progress ever made on this subject was due to the previous articles I wrote about it. They now feel no further progress will take place unless I write about it again. Sadly, I know they are right and that the only hope to solve this problem is to publicize it. Four years ago, I was approached by three people, David Gevertzman, David Priever and Florence Marmor. They told me a story about Mokom Sholom, a cemetery on Liberty Avenue between 80th and 81st street in Queens. David Gevertzman was trying to find the grave of his great grandmother, who records indicated was buried there. He had enlisted the aid of Priever and Marmor, both whom were qualified Genealogists. As they searched for David's Great Grandmother they were shocked at what they discovered. At least one fifth of the headstones at Mokom Sholom cemetery were missing. Completely gone. There were no signs of the graves that had previously been marked. At first they didn't believe it themselves. They set out on a course of checking paper trails, obtaining aerial photos and speaking to witnesses who lived in the area. The evidence was concrete. Someone had removed all above ground traces of thousands of graves. These were burials all made by the UHC (United Hebrew Charities using land that was donated by Congregation Darech Amuno of Manhattan.) What should have looked like a full cemetery now looked empty. I arranged a meeting in Boro Park with Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, head of the Chevra Kadisha of the Vaad Horabonnim of Queens. Rabbi Zohn assured me that he was told by David Jacobson, the cemetery operator, that Mokom Sholom was empty. If however, the people who charged the cemetery contained graves could prove it, he would see that the cemetery would remain untouched. (Only in dire emergency does Jewish law permit burying one person on top of another.) This proved to be a false promise. I should have realized this when in order to impress me with how close he was to Jacobson, Rabbi Zohn told me that Jacobson's son was at that time working for him . Nevertheless, I asked for and Priever, Gevertzman and Marmor provided me with, mountains of proof which were later presented to Rabbi Zohn and some other members of the Vaad. We hoped they would do the right thing. Some of the proof we had and showed included; Aerial photos over the years that showed markers on graves in previous years but no trace of any markers now. Letters written to the cemetery commission by relatives of the dead people complaining of missing graves in the cemetery. Photos of piled up removed headstones. Testimony of neighbors who lived near the cemetery who remembered graves in the now empty looking area. Documents from the cemetery commission files stating the cemetery was completely filled. A state report by one Perry A. Fischer, detailing how the cemetery trustees were forbidden by Rabbis in previous years to reuse graves because there already were burials there and how when they attempted to bury where there appeared to be no bodies they always uncovered bodies and had to stop. Correspondence between David Jacobson, the current Mokom Sholom operator, to one New York Recycling Company complaining that they were charging him too much to cover over the graves that were present. His method and his workers could do it for less. A year by year log of just how many burials took place in Mokom Sholom calculated from Darech Amuno yearly reports.Of course there was much, much more. Despite the overwhelming proof offered to Rabbi Zohn, it became apparent he really did not want to see the proof we showed him. What he really wanted was to go ahead, give a "heter" and cover a known Jewish Cemetery so he could allow Jacobson to bury bodies in a clean field. After giving a full six months to have meeting after meeting and examine the evidence, I realized the obvious. Rabbi Zohn was assuring Vaad members that there were no problems at Mokom Sholom. He had every intention of allowing the covering of twelve thousand Jewish Graves with fresh dirt and every intention of allowing David Jacobson to sell these graves to unsuspecting Russians looking for burial plots. They would never question whether there were previous burials at that location. I could only guess at the motives but perhaps the words "big profits" would have something to do with it. Since I soon realized, I was not being dealt with honestly and would be unable to stop them quietly, I used the only weapon I had left... publicity. I published the full story in The Jewish Interest Magazine. Thirty thousand copies of the magazine were distributed in the Boro Park and Flatbush area. It had a major effect. It stopped their plans dead. No one would cover the graves in the glare of publicity. David Gevertzman was not fully satisfied. He wanted to make sure this issue would be settled for good and wanted to be sure they would not try this again. So he had a messenger sent to Rabbi Elyoshuv in Israel. Rabbi Elyoshuv is considered the Godol Hador (major Jewish Sage) today. The Rabbi sent back written notice that not only was it forbidden by Jewish law to pour earth over Mokom Sholom but as much as possible it was Halachicly required to restore the cemetery to it's former condition. We published the original text of the letter in The Jewish Interest Magazine. That to us seemed to end all the arguments about Mokom Sholom or so we thought. New reports started coming in. A friend of mine in Israel called to tell me that representatives of the Vaad, including Rabbi Zohn, had flown out to Rabbi Elyoshuv. For two days they worked on convincing him that he made a mistake in ruling Mokom Sholom untouchable. They seemed to be making headway. But something they said on the third day set off alarms. Rav Elyoshuv realized they were lying and them told them flatly he would not reverse his P'sak Din (ruling.) The stunned Rabbis returned home in the same position as before. We were fairly satisfied that the cemetery was safe. Things seemed quiet. But in the summer of 1997 I heard new stories. Rabbi Zohn was now telling people that he had a Halachic ruling stating Rav Elyoshuv had Halachic jurisdiction only in Israel and not in the United States. He now admitted that although he knew that there were graves in Mokom Sholom, it would be permissible to cover them in order to make money to use for repair of nearby Bayside cemetery, a cemetery that even now is not run by Jacobson, but was expected to go bankrupt soon and be given to him. Rabbi Elyoshuv's "P'sak din" was to be considered irrelevant. Incredible!! Covering Jewish dead in the USA was never done before! To do so would violate a most basic tenet of Judaism - respect for the dead. If this ruling goes forward, it would mean that in later years Jewish graves could regularly be covered over if money could be made from it (for good purposes only of course) and this ruling will by cited as the precedent! Covering over Jewish dead of one cemetery to support another could become a regular occurrence! We recruited other Rabbis to enter the fray. (Most Rabonnim don't want to help because they don't wish to battle other Rabonnim.) After a recent major meeting of the Vaad I received a call from one Rav. He wanted to let me know that the Rabbi Zohn was only afraid of one person. Me. (little old gentle me? Not really. What he's really afraid of is people knowing the truth) The Rav informed me that he had ruled that I had the Halachic obligation to write a full article and expose what was going on in order to stop it since this was the only way it could be stopped. Soon another Rav called me. He too demanded I write this article. You are now reading the results of their request. I met Rabbi Zohn and Rabbi Steinberg in front of Rabbi Steinberg's Shul a few months ago. Between heated shouts at me, Rabbi Zohn admitted that were it not for my articles exposing their intentions, Mokom Sholom would be covered over with another six feet of dirt and there would be double burials there today. He denied promising me that if I proved there were graves at Mokom Sholom he would stop the double burials (an out and out lie.) He confirmed to me that he felt he did not have to follow Rabbi Elyoshuv's P'sak Din. He also said that if David Jacobson suddenly poured earth over Mokom Sholom at his own whim there is nothing anyone could do. (Apparently, this is now the plan according to my sources.) This may be true but we are supposed to be a Jewish community. We wouldn't allow the Czar or a communist government to wipe out all traces of a Jewish cemetery so can we allow two so called Jewish frum rabbis do it? Rabbi Elchonon Zohn should not be allowed to rule on cemetery matters where David Jacobson is involved as he has been doing. Rabbi Zohn is a "Nogaiah Badovor" (involved too closely in the case.) There are witnesses who have told me he has taken gratuities from funeral homes as an award for sending them business even while forbidding his workers from to do so. (Gratuities reportedly have included, freezerfuls of Thanksgiving turkeys, fancy luggage and other items.) Many members of the Vaad, have reported to me that he has, a real interesting "Tachrichim" HUSSle going on. It is reported David Jacobson's two sons had worked for Rabbi Zohn. (Rabbi Zohn told me this himself.) In addition, Rabbi Zohn has had and continues to have great financial benefit working with Jacobson. Rabbi Zohn has now gotten the contract to do most or all Taharas for "Kehilla Chapels" a funeral home run by David Jacobson's son and wife. Since "Kehilla" has now taken over all UHC, (United Hebrew Community, otherwise known as Adath Yisroel) burials from Kirshenbaum Bros, it does a major amount of burials. (An interesting side note to this is that David Jacobson is the director of the UHC.) Halacha clearly forbids one who is involved as deeply as Rabbi Zohn is to rule on issues affecting Jacobson yet he has been doing so for years. The Vaad has clearly been fooled by this man. He has misled them greatly while betraying their trust. How could the Vaad Horabbonim of Queens, a Vaad with one of the finest reputations for Kashrus supervision and integrity, fall for this phony? What should the Vaad Do to keep their good name? The Vaad should immediately issue a letter acknowledging the cemetery is full (they already admit this privately) and acknowledging clear evidence that Rabbis previously banned new burials in Mokom Sholom. A permanent memorial should be put up in the now empty field acknowledging and memorializing the people who are buried there. (If they are agreeable to this, we can supply thousands of names of people who are buried in Mokom Sholom.) Halacha requires markers in Jewish cemeteries.The Vaad should look into having Rabbi Zohn replaced. Certainly, he cannot be trusted to work without strong supervision. The sweetheart deals with funeral homes and suppliers are not fitting for someone doing holy work. It may seem like he is irreplaceable but in truth Rabbis in the Vaad have secretly told me that there are many candidates who can take his place. He should not be allowed to maintain a position where Vaad members fear for their livelihoods if they oppose him. Certainly, this article should be considered an official Halachic protest against the use of Mokom Sholom as a virgin cemetery. A "Michoa" (protest according to Halachic Tradition) as you will. The Vaad Horabonnim of Queens should publicly proclaim the ban of covering known graves in Mokom Sholom. This would go a long way towards restoring public trust. Any member of the Vaad with ties to Jacobson should have no business making decisions on Jacobson cemeteries. David Jacobson should publicly acknowledge the ban and be halachicly forbidden to cover over or remove headstones from any Jewish graves in the many Jewish cemeteries he runs, funeral homes and monument stores he is associated with in New York, New Jersey and Staten Island should not be patronized if he does not cooperate with Halachic rulings. If he will not accept this, then Rabbonim all over should issue a ban on using Jacobson's services and connected funeral homes and monument stores. The situation at Mokom Sholom does not require that precedent should be set in the United States to cover up Jewish dead. It should be publicly acknowledged that at one time, Mokom Sholom graves were properly marked (as late as 1961.) It should be noted, that those monuments were removed with the express purpose of covering graves of already dead people, (mostly children under sixteen) to gain profit. There should be no reward, even thirty years later for trying to steal Jewsih graves.We should strongly consider that someone undertake to catalog all Jewish burials in New York and make it available as a public database to insure moves like this can never be pulled off again. With computers, it is very easy to make burial records accessible to all. With burial logs publicly available, it will be hard to "make graves disappear" as has been done in Mokom Sholom. (No doubt in other cemeteries we don't know about too. In the four years since I started writing about Mokom Sholom, I've received report after report about missing graves in Washington cemetery in Brooklyn. I've been told that out of all people, Rabbi Zohn certified this cemetery as Okay) I can't believe that it has taken four years to get to this point. In my wildest imagination, I never dreamt that I would have to battle supposedly religious Rabbis to stop them from covering over a cemetery full of Jewish dead right here in our own back yard in Queens. In the past four years, I have been accused of being "Mevazeh Talmud Chochom" for exposing these wrongs. Now, because of this Halachic ruling I am writing about this subject again. Truthfully, I cannot even understand the controversy. Are Jewish graves so valueless that we can erase all traces of them at whim? It is my sincere wish that the Vaad Horabonim do the right thing and make sure this travesty will never happen in order that their good name survive. If they insist on not doing the right thing, I will do whatever is needed to publicize their direct violation of Halachic ruling. My first duty is to truth and to the protection of the thousands of "Neshomos" (souls) in Mokom Sholom who must have someone to speak out for them.Writers Note: The printed issue has not even hit the streets yet and I have been receiving calls from people who have worked with Rabbi Zohn constantly. The word is out that I am writing about him and I am being inundated with terrible tales about him. I will only post those that are relevant to the issues since the purpose here is to save close to twelve thousand graves and to preserve the dignity of Jewish dead not a vendetta against Rabbi Zohn. Except for speaking to him about Mokom Sholom, I have never had any dealings with him at all.Writers Note 2: Some of my sources have commented that I have not emphasized that the Vaad Horabonim Of Queens is one of the most well organized and respected Vaads's in the country. Their Kashrus certification program is known to be first class. Certainly, there are members of the Vaad who are nationally respected for their knowledge and expertise. My latest reports are that there are some in the Vaad who have been willing to go along with Zohn because they felt the Vaad needed the money. At one meeting, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld courageously stood up and demanded there should be no more burials at Mokom Sholom. He has been rewarded for his courage. He is no longer asked to attend meetings where Mokom Sholom is discussed. Reportedly, he is no longer on the New York State Cemetery Board.All the more reason not to let a rotten apple spoil the bunch. MH.PSS As of today, I have been warned Rabbi Zohn has organized meetings designed to rally Rabbonim to his side. I advise these well meaning Rabbonim to speak to me before they make any rulings. They should certainly check out my follow up page for new information.
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