GLENDALE, N.Y. – More than 100 burial plots at a Jewish cemetery in Queens have experienced either cracked headstones after falling to the ground or grave beds sinking into the soil.
The Bukharian Jewish community in Glendale claim they’ve tried to rectify the issue personally with the cemetery owners at Mt. Carmel Cemetery, but with more headstones falling off, they’re now relying on newly-drafted legislation that would require cemeteries to meet religious accommodations.
Shabsie Saphirstein, a member of the All Bukharian Community Network, says it’s added trauma to an already stressful situation that comes with burying a loved one.
“You see a cracked headstone of people’s parents who some of us were actually there for the burials,” Saphirstein said.
Yuriy Danielov, another member of the ABC Network, says the grave beds should sit on the grass 12 inches above ground, but many are so sunken in that they’re six inches or lower. The issue started two years ago. Some thought it was vandalism at first.
“I said, ‘Guys, something is different, something [is] very strange, so we have to hire an engineer,” Danielov said.
A licensed engineer was hired by the Bukharian network and after inspecting the plots, he issued a report.
“The cemetery didn’t even accept the proposal,” Saphirstein alleged. “We explained how a bridge has to be built to maintain the support of these heavy stones and it didn’t go anywhere.”
The granite headstones can weigh about a ton. Excavators driving on top of where loved ones are laid to rest aren’t helping, members of the ABC Network said.
“We’ve seen heavy machinery which is not seen in any [Jewish] cemeteries and it just doesn’t add up,” Saphirestein added.
Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO of Chazaq Organization which is advocating on behalf of these families, is asking for the cemetery to be more sensitive to the correct process of religious burials.
“The request is that our laws and our Halakhah and our Jewish laws should be adhered by and heard,” Rabbi Meirov said.
Mt. Carmel cemetery’s general manager, Renate Namias, responded to PIX11’S request for comment, saying they’ve been serving the Bukharian Community for more than three decades and have had an excellent relationship with leaders of the community. They add that it has always been their policy to be sensitive to the concerns of all families, especially during the burial of a loved one.
In part, their statement reads: “For the last two years, Cemetery management has met with a small group of representatives from the Bukharian Community regarding specific complaints concerning cemetery operations, i.e. how we pour cement foundations and various types of motorized equipment used for grave openings. As a result of our discussions, we retained the services of a structural engineer to review our procedures and had a representative from the Division of Cemeteries, a state regulatory agency, visit the Cemetery. In both cases, they approved of our procedures.”
If the New York State Senate Bill is passed, it would create a stricter oversight of cemetery corporations to make sure that religious needs are met.