Burying the poor


The New York Times profiles the Hebrew Free Burial Association:

Two shovels were planted in the mound next to the open mouth of the grave. “For those of you who don’t know about this,” said the rabbi, Shmuel Plafker, “let me show you.”

He lifted the first pile of dirt with the back of the shovel. “To symbolize that we really don’t want to do this,” Rabbi Plafker said.

It was a perfect early spring day: acres of blue sky, the lightest of breezes moving past the graves of Mount Richmond Cemetery on Staten Island. Here, 55,000 Jews are buried in plots owned by the Hebrew Free Burial Association.

These are the graves of the poor, which, under Judaic law, do not differ from those of the rich. The ritual of burial is a rope across time: families who lived a century ago at 108 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side — now known as the Tenement Museum — are buried at Mount Richmond. The maternal grandparents of Mel Brooks are down one row. In another corner are 23 of the girls and boys who were killed in the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire in 1911.

On Tuesday afternoon, in Section 35, it was the time to lay Jeffrey Lynn Schneider to rest, in a box of raw pine, the lid barely held on with three wooden pegs.

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