Nearly 300 Jews who died 10 to 20 years ago without money, without mourners at their graveside, without a marker on their grave on Staten Island, got a gravestone the other day.
On a cool, overcast Sunday morning, a crane unloaded 266 granite markers from Georgia at Staten Island’s Mount Richmond Cemetery.
Over the next month, they will be set up at their respective graves as the latest installment of the 18-year-old Leave a Mark project of the Hebrew Free Burial Association.
Each marker bears at least a Jewish star and the name and birth-death dates of the deceased. Each person died in poverty, many without family, but not anonymously.
“Each grave has the name of the person,” says Amy Koplow, executive director of the association, an agency of UJA-Federation.
The markers were donated by the association, part of a special campaign sustained by private donors and foundations.
Since its founding 120 years ago for residents of the Lower East Side, the association — now the largest Jewish free burial society outside of Israel — has provided a Jewish burial for some 60,000 people. “Every year we get 300,” Koplow says.
The association has also taken care of the remains of Jews who died in World War II and the Spanish-American War, the Holocaust and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.
When the Leave a Mark project started in 1991, the Staten Island cemetery held some 20,000 unmarked Jewish graves, Koplow says. Since then, the association has provided “close to 15,000 markers.”
“Several thousand” unmarked graves remain there, she says. No one knows the exact number. “The [old] records aren’t what they are today.” A metal marker provided by funeral homes marks a grave until a granite marker takes its place.
Next year, people who died in years beginning in 1996 will have a marker placed on their graves.
The project is “ongoing,” Koplow says.
Even if no one remains from their families, she says, the marker will bear witness to their lives. “They will be remembered forever.”