Accountability and transparency within our institutions and leadership.
posted by jewishwhistleblower @ 4:00 PM
Something else that will not be addressed by the RCA this weekend.The over 11,000 desecrated Jewish graves in NY. There are mainly the graves of Jewish children.Of course, children's graves are not as important to our community leaders as crustations in the drinking water. They fail to protect the dignity of children in life, should we expect more after children are dead?And the person in charge of this cemetery? Former President and current Treasurer of OHEL, David Jacobson, who may hold the record for desecration of Jewish children's graves under his care and control with a whopping 11,000+ graves.see:http://web.archive.org/web/20020529055836/http://www.jewishinterest.com/and the Rav Elyoshav psak he has not followed:http://web.archive.org/web/20030115112513/www.jewishinterest.com/MokomSholom/rav.htmAnd the rabbonim of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens who remain silent (although they take over $1 million in Taharas revenues primarily from David Jacobson's operations according to Guidestar):List of rabbonim:www.queensvaad.org/about_vaad/members.cfmVaad Harabonim of Queens tax statements:http://www.guidestar.org/Documents/2002/112/774/2002-112774666-1-9.pdfMore 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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