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My Machberes

Cemetery Business

This story is often repeated. A rich man who lived in a shtetl never gave one cent to charity, no matter how worthy the cause. No beggar’s woe was able to pierce the miser’s ice-cold heart. As is the way with every mortal, the miser’s last day on earth arrived. Knowing of the lack of generosity of the deceased, the chevrah kadishah demanded an exorbitant amount of money for a burial plot. The family balked, but having no other choice, dutifully paid every last dollar and the deceased was buried with all regular courtesies.

Immediately after the shiva, the family members rushed to file a lawsuit and summoned the chevrah kadishah to secular court, claiming that the amount paid was unprecedented, discriminatory and unlawful, and they demanded a refund, plus interest and penalties. If left undefended, the members of the chevrah kadishah were criminally liable as well. Petrified of appearing in a secular court, the members of the chevrah kadishah rushed to the rav of the shtetl and shared all of the details of what transpired. The rav reassured them that they had acted correctly and that he personally would represent them at the trial.

As the court date arrived, the rav proceeded to the courthouse. As he walked through the streets toward the center of the shtetl, he was followed by everyone who saw him. Ordinarily, the rav never went into the business district. Everyone’s curiosity was aroused.

As the bailiff called the case, the miser’s family screamed and shouted about the outrageous injustice they endured. The judge patiently heard them out and plainly sympathized. Finally, the chevrah kadishah was called on to defend its actions. Out of respect, everyone in the courtroom rose as the rav approached the bench.

The rav explained how a chevrah kadishah is obligated to honor every Jewish deceased and to assign a burial plot. Ordinarily, when a Jew dies, a burial plot is assigned in which the remains of the deceased are to repose until such time that Mashiach comes and everyone is resurrected and brought to the Holy Land. Each deceased is judged according to his actions and those worthy are resurrected first. When resurrected, the burial plot, now free and unencumbered, is returned to the chevrah kadishah.

The deceased in question, the rav pointed out, was exceptionally wealthy. Despite of his magnificent fortune, however, the miser never contributed even one cent to any charity. Without any merits, he is not worth to be resurrected and will lay in his burial plot forever. And the plot will never be returned to chevrah kadishah. Accordingly, the price demanded was reasonable and fully justified.

The words of the rav penetrated the previously biased judge who fully appreciated the rav’s wisdom. The judge ruled in favor of the chevrah kadishah.

Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge, NJ

Rabbi Yonason Steif, zt”l

Situated in Woodbridge, New Jersey, the Beth Israel Cemetery is a place of honor for Torah giants who rest there.

They include Rabbi Yonoson Steif, zt”l (d. 1958), rosh beit din and effectively chief rabbi of Budapest and later Vienner Rav; Rabbi Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl, zt”l (d. 1957), Nitra rosh yeshiva, son-in-law of the Nitra Rav zt”l and Holocaust hero; Rabbi Moshe Stern, zt”l (d. 1997), Debretziner Rav and author of Be’er Moshe; Rabbi Ezriel Yehuda Liebowitz, zt”l (d. 1991) Hodhahzer Rav who succeeded Rabbi Yonason Steif as Vienner Rav; Rabbi Hillel Bishko, zt”l (d. 1960), prolific writer and contributor to the Hamaor Rabbinical Journal; Rebbe Dov Berish Dembinsky, zt”l (d. 1981), Alexander Rebbe; Rabbi Shraga Feivel Sholom Dembinsky, zt”l (d. 1954), Alexander Rebbe; Rabbi Mordechai Menachem Mendel Eiger, zt”l (d. 1995), Lubliner Rebbe; Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, zt”l (d. 1991), New York Radziner Rebbe; Rabbi Yeruchem Leiner, zt”l (d. 1962), London Radziner Rebbe; Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Mayer, zt”l (d. 1991); Nitra Rosh Yeshiva; Rabbi Yitzchok Yehudah Leib Shacar, zt”l (d. 1953), Rav in New York; Rabbi Yechiel Menachem Singer, zt”l (d. 1988), New York Alexander Rebbe; Rabbi Naftali Aryeh Spiegel, zt”l (d. 1948), Ostrov Kalishiner Rebbe; Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Spiegel, zt”l (d. 2001), Rav of the Romanian Shul; Rabbi Yehoshua Yechezkel Taub, zt”l (d. 1952), Modzitzer Rebbe; and Rebbe Yekusiel Yudah Teitelbaum, zt”l (d. 1972), Lapisher Rebbe.

Started in 1927, Beth Israel, also known as Woodbridge Memorial Gardens, sits upon American historical ground. George Washington stayed in Woodbridge on his ceremonial visit to New York City (then the capital of the United States) to assume the office of president back in 1789. Plants brought from Israel and dedicated there by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1957.

Among the outstanding features of the park is a prominent white stone monument showing the Ten Commandments flanked by two majestic lions, which is a memorial to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The inscription on the base of the monument reads: “In memory of the 6,000,000 martyred Jews of Europe from whose ashes Israel rose anew.”

The main office building housing the administration, sales, and clerical staff was originally a farmhouse dating back to 1768. The original building has been expanded and modernized around the existing original structure.

Isidore Shipper, z”l (1894-1980), arrived in the United States in 1924 and served as the first director of the then-family owned cemetery. It was incorporated in 1927. Isidore Shipper also served as president of the Belle Harbor Jewish Center and as treasurer of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. The family continues to direct the management of the cemetery.

The Forward in a recent article noted that the cemetery was sold in 1995 to Loewen, a public corporation based in Canada, which went bankrupt in 1999. The StoneMor corporation, based in Levittown, Pennsylvania, acquired the Woodbridge cemetery. StoneMor owns 253 cemeteries and 69 funeral homes across the United States.

The Forward article highlighted the unusual structure of the cemetery itself, being not-for-profit but having hired a for-profit management company to administer it.

Kobasdorfer Chassunah

Yoka Rav

On Tuesday, December 25, Eliyahu Heller will marry Esther Bracha Koenig, youngest child of Rabbi Yehuda Leibish Koenig, Kobasdorfer Rav and author of B’orei Yehuda. The chassan is the son of Rabbi Eliezer Lipa Heller of Melbourne, Australia; descendant of Rabbi Yitzchok Heller zt”l, chief rabbi of Tzefas; son of Rabbi Shmuel Heller zt”l, chief rabbi of Tsefas; direct descendant of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller zt”l, revered author of Tosfos Yom Tov. The chassan is also a descendant of Rabbi Mordechai Bennet zt”l and of the Baal Shem Tov.

Rabbi Leibish Koenig, the father of the kallah, serves as Kobasdorfer Rav and leads Beis Medrash Chukei Chaim on 20th Avenue in Boro Park. Kobarsdorf, until the dissolution of the Austro Hungarian monarchy, was in Hungary. Today, it is in Austria. The last Kobasdofer Rav there was Rabbi Shimon Goldberger zt”l Hy”d (d. 1944), uncle of the successor.

Kobasdorfer Rav presenting his sefer to Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger

The kallah is the granddaughter of Rabbi Chaim Yeshaye Koenig, Yoka Rav and author of Chukei Chaim, one on a long line of rabbis descending from Rabbi Meir Asch, zt”l (1670-1744), Eizenstadter Rav and author of Pannim Ma’eros. The Kobasdofer Rav is one of the founding Torah lecturers of Irgun Shiurei Torah, having begun the effort by giving shiurim every Monday through Friday during the Irgun’s embryonic first four years.

The Kobasdorfer Rav is a leading member of the Igud Horabbonim and often addresses its Rosh Chodesh Conferences, where challenges and questions of halacha are deliberated. The Kobasdorfer Rav also heads the Kobasdorfer Kollel which is conducted in Beis Medrash Chukei Chaim.

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