Frequently Asked Questions About Bayside Cemetery

When did Shaare Zedek establish Bayside Cemetery and who is buried there?

Congregation Shaare Zedek was founded on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1837.  In the middle of the 19th century, Shaare Zedek acquired land in Ozone Park, Queens where it established Bayside Cemetery.  Over the ensuing decades, and particularly during the massive waves of Jewish immigration into New York around the turn of the 20th century, Shaare Zedek sold the exclusive burial rights in the overwhelming majority of the cemetery’s land to approximately a hundred different burial societies, fraternal organizations, synagogues and other communal groups, with the purchasing organization undertaking a contractual obligation to maintain its area.  Although we do not have precise statistics, Shaare Zedek believes that its past members and their families account for approximately 5-10% of the total burials at Bayside Cemetery. The cemetery covers 16 acres and has approximately 32,000 graves and dozens of mausoleums. There are no longer any gravesites available for sale.

Why did the cemetery fall into disrepair?

Nearly all of the societies and organizations that purchased burial plots at the cemetery are now defunct and only a handful of those made financial arrangements to fund the maintenance of their plots before they ceased operations.  Shaare Zedek therefore became responsible for the cost of maintaining the entire cemetery, not just the small portion that it had initially maintained for the use of its members and the public. As the cemetery itself generates no income and had no endowment, the costs of maintenance were almost entirely borne by Shaare Zedek’s members’ contributions and its general operating funds, which were insufficient to the large task of maintaining the 16- acre cemetery.  

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon phenomenon, particularly where Jewish communities have undergone large demographic shifts: the organizations that originally founded and intended to maintain cemeteries simply no longer exist and alternative arrangements must be made.  In many cases, the Jewish community as a whole undertakes maintenance of what was historically a communal resource; here, however, because Shaare Zedek happened to survive, it retained ownership of the cemetery and the associated financial and administrative obligations.

Have other organizations and individuals helped Shaare Zedek support the cemetery?

Although the scale of work required at the cemetery requires professional, sustained attention to be fully effective, Shaare Zedek appreciates the volunteer efforts of many individuals and organizations who have contributed their time, effort and resources to maintain the cemetery for many years.  We would like to specifically acknowledge three who have made particularly notable contributions:

First, in 2007, several members of Shaare Zedek, working with others in the Jewish community, helped found the Community Alliance for Jewish Affiliated Cemeteries, or CAJAC, with the goal of helping financially at-risk Jewish cemeteries throughout New York, including first and foremost Bayside Cemetery.  (Despite the involvement of several Shaare Zedek members and a shared interest in supporting the cemetery, the two organizations never had any formal connection.). Over the years since its founding, CAJAC has organized various volunteer events at the cemetery to clean and maintain the cemetery, for which Shaare Zedek expresses its deep gratitude, and CAJAC’s staff have provided valuable advice and assistance.  

Second, in 2009, UJA-Federation of New York provided a one-time grant of $145,000 to help fund landscaping work at the cemetery, which work was coordinated by CAJAC under an agreement with Shaare Zedek.   That professional cleanup was an important milestone in the restoration of the cemetery.

Lastly, for many years a righteous individual named Anthony Pisciotta voluntarily undertook the work of repairing damaged monuments at the cemetery.  Mr. Pisciotta did this work without pay and purely out of an expressed desire to provide dignity and respect for those buried at the cemetery. Mr. Pisciotta embodies the hallowed principle of chesed shel emet, the truest act of kindness provided by the living to the dead.

What is Shaare Zedek’s plan for the long-term care of the cemetery?

Although support from CAJAC, the UJA and volunteers such as Mr. Pisciotta have been extremely helpful and form a meaningful part of the cemetery’s long history, the only way to restore and provide long-term maintenance for the cemetery is by establishing a multi-million dollar endowment to pay for necessary repairs and an endowment.  When it became clear that Jewish communal organizations were unable to provide those funds, Shaare Zedek’s leadership began, as early as 2005, to explore a sale of Shaare Zedek’s sole asset, the synagogue building located on West 93rd Street, in part to raise the funds necessary for the cemetery’s long-term maintenance.  Given Shaare Zedek’s diminished number of members from its heyday in the early part of the 20th Century, this was the only option for raising the funds necessary for the cemetery.  The sale of the building involved a years’ long process (interrupted by the Great Recession) of marketing the building, locating a developer to purchase it, negotiating a transaction, drafting the necessary contracts, and obtaining the consent of the New York State Attorney General and judicial approval of the sale.  

What does the cemetery receive from the real estate transaction?

The real estate transaction involves the sale and demolition of the synagogue building, which will be replaced by a thirteen-story condominium.  Shaare Zedek will own the lower level, ground and second floors, which will be used for a new social hall, sanctuary, offices and classrooms. As part of the transaction, Shaare Zedek also received $16 million in cash.  Under an agreement reached with the Attorney General and approved by the New York State Supreme Court, $8 million of the $16 million has been allocated to the cemetery for the purposes of undertaking necessary repairs and capital improvements and funding a long-term endowment for the cemetery.    

When was the real estate transaction approved?

The Court approved the real estate transaction on July 27, 2017 and the decision was affirmed on appeal on June 12, 2018.

When did Shaare Zedek receive the funds from the deal?

Shaare Zedek received $1 million from the developer upon approval of the real estate transaction by the Court.  The balance was received from the developer in June, 2018. Shaare Zedek immediately began the extensive work needed to repair the cemetery when it received the balance of the funds from the real estate transaction in June 2018.  

What is Shaare Zedek’s plan for restoring the cemetery?

In November 2017, Shaare Zedek retained HE2PD, Inc. to serve as project manager and draft a master plan for the restoration of the cemetery.  That plan, which was ultimately submitted to the Attorney General, includes extensive landscaping work, repairs of the gatehouse, monuments, mausoleums and exterior walls, and the installation of new fences and a security system.  The estimated cost of the project exceeds $1 million. Our project manager is responsible for obtaining the necessary bids from vendors and contractors, and for overseeing the entire project. By hiring a project manager, Shaare Zedek’s lay leadership – all of whom serve the community in a volunteer capacity – have ensured that the restoration project will be professionally supervised and that vendors will be accountable for their work.    

What is Shaare Zedek’s process for undertaking work at the cemetery?

Under the agreement reached with the Attorney General and approved by the Court, any expenditures for capital projects and repairs must be approved by the Attorney General and/or the Court.  Thus, prior to beginning any new work at the cemetery, Shaare Zedek submits the contracts to the Attorney General for approval. Work on specific projects cannot begin until approval is received.

What work has Shaare Zedek already completed?

In June 2018, Shaare Zedek retained Fiorini Landscape, Inc. to undertake a special, one-time rehabilitation of the cemetery’s lawns and trees.  This landscaping work cost in excess of $300,000 and involved the removal of multiple dead trees and branches overhanging paths and monuments so as to provide a safe environment for visitors, the elimination of weeds and invasive plant growth, and a comprehensive clean-up of the grounds following the many years during which Shaare Zedek could not afford the necessary level of care.  The landscaping project was completed in September, 2018. Fiorini has also been retained to provide continuing monthly maintenance of the cemetery’s grounds.

What work is in progress?

The following projects are presently underway at the cemetery:

1. Gatehouse:  Shaare Zedek is gut renovating the existing cemetery gatehouse, which has not been usable for many years.  The work involves the installation of new restroom facilities, windows, doors and a roof, as well as floor coverings, light fixtures and fresh paint.
2. Monuments: Shaare Zedek retained Sprung Monuments to undertake the following work:

i. Reset and stabilize any monuments which are creating dangerous conditions at the cemetery, including those that are likely to fall without further attention; and

ii. Raise and reset any monuments that are blocking paths or access to graves.

To the extent any monument is so damaged that it cannot be re-erected, the monument will be respectfully laid on the grave.  

3. Wall repair: Shaare Zedek is repairing the exterior cemetery wall on Liberty Avenue.

What other work will Shaare Zedek undertake?

Shaare Zedek intends to repair and install new fences and a modern security system with video cameras and  alarms, and to fix the cracked and uneven pavement at the cemetery entrance. Additionally, Shaare Zedek intends to make repairs to the cemetery’s approximately fifty mausoleums and is in the process of determining how best to do so given various religious laws relating to the burial of bodies in above-ground mausoleums.

Is Shaare Zedek responsible for the repair of monuments and mausoleums at the cemetery?

No.  Monuments and mausoleums are the property of the families that erected them and Shaare Zedek has no responsibility to repair them.  Shaare Zedek is performing these repairs only because it is best situated to do so, and in order to eliminate dangerous conditions at the cemetery.  Shaare Zedek does not intend, however, to fund the repair of monuments which are leaning but not in danger of toppling, or monuments which have sunk into the ground.  Those conditions are a natural consequence of the passage of time and a result of older and less effective methods used to install monuments at the turn of the last century.   

How do I determine whether a monument of a family member needs to be repaired?

If you have a family member or members buried at the cemetery and know the general location of the grave, you may contact our office at office@sznyc.org and provide us with the name of the deceased and the location and we will let you know whether repairs to the monument are necessary.  We will also let you know whether Shaare Zedek will undertake the repairs pursuant to its contract with Sprung.

Can I undertake the repairs on my own?

Yes.  If you do not want Shaare Zedek to undertake repairs or if the monument at issue does not fall within the category of monuments for which Shaare Zedek will fund repairs, you may undertake the work on your own.  All work must be coordinated through our project manager, HE2PD, and all workers must carry the appropriate level of insurance. If you wish to go ahead and make repairs on your own, you may contact HE2PD at 516-442-4020, and please ask to speak with Nick Tangredi or Rob Arata.

I have family members buried at the cemetery but do not know the location of the graves.  How do I find them?

Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive source of information on all burials at the cemetery.  Shaare Zedek has relatively extensive records of burials from 1882-1970 and 1994-2004, as well as an overlapping (but less complete) set of information for burials during other time periods.  If you need access to this information, you can contact the Shaare Zedek office at office@sznyc.org, and we will do our best to provide an answer.  Please note that even when we can find a record of a burial, we frequently can identify only the general area of the cemetery (e.g. the gate or section), but not necessarily an exact row or plot location.

How do I arrange for a funeral at the cemetery?

Although all of the cemetery’s gravesites have been sold, a small number of gravesites still await interment.  Any licensed funeral director may oversee a funeral at the cemetery. If you need to arrange for a funeral, please contact HE2PD at 516-442-4020 and ask to speak with Nick Tangredi or Rob Arata.  HE2PD will ensure that the cemetery is open and staffed and will coordinate all necessary work. Please be aware that Shaare Zedek charges an administrative fee in connection with any funeral service.   

How do I visit the cemetery?

The cemetery is open to the public on Sundays from 9 AM to 1 PM and Wednesdays from 8 AM to 12 PM.  The hours are extended on Sundays during the High Holiday season from the 1st of Elul through Hoshanah Rabbah.  All visitors are requested to check in with security when they arrive so as to ensure that the gates are not locked while visitors are still inside.  

On average, the cemetery receives one visitor each day that it is open, and about two per day during the High Holiday season.

If it is absolutely impossible for you to visit the cemetery during its regular operating hours, particularly if you are visiting from out of town, please contact Shaare Zedek’s office by email at office@sznyc.org or by phone at 212-874-7005 and we will determine whether the cemetery can be opened on an alternate day for your convenience.

Can I make a financial donation for the cemetery’s upkeep?

Yes.  Shaare Zedek appreciates donations of funds for the upkeep of the cemetery. If you are interested in making a donation, please contact Michael Firestone at president@sznyc.org.

Is Shaare Zedek providing perpetual care?

Shaare Zedek sold perpetual care contracts in the past, and is committed to honoring the terms of the existing perpetual care trusts established under those contracts.  It is important to remember, however, that a perpetual care contract is not a guarantee of a particular standard of care.  Instead, it is only a commitment to use the income derived on the principal of the trust to care for one or more specified graves or plots, to the extent such income is sufficient to do so.  

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the perpetual care trusts at the cemetery generate only minimal amounts of income that are insufficient to provide any meaningful care.  Shaare Zedek has therefore allowed the income on its perpetual care trust funds to accumulate, while funding the care of the entire cemetery (including both graves with and without perpetual care) from the cemetery’s general operating funds.

Is Shaare Zedek currently selling perpetual care contracts?

Shaare Zedek is not currently selling perpetual care contracts, nor has it been approached by any prospective purchasers in many years.  Nonetheless, if you are interested in endowing the care of a particular plot or section, please contact the Shaare Zedek office.

Does Shaare Zedek sell annual or seasonal care contracts?

Shaare Zedek has not sold annual or seasonal care contracts at the cemetery since at least 2009, but as noted above, Shaare Zedek is currently providing ongoing maintenance and care to all graves in the cemetery at its own expense.

What is the nature of the litigation over the cemetery?

Shaare Zedek is currently being sued by an individual who purchased perpetual care for certain graves at the cemetery and alleges that Shaare Zedek has breached that perpetual care contract by, among other things, misappropriating perpetual care funds for the synagogue’s use.

Shaare Zedek is committed to honoring the terms of all of its perpetual care trusts, including the plaintiff’s, and will continue to do so while the lawsuit is ongoing.  Shaare Zedek completely denies, however, the allegations that perpetual care funds were diverted to support the synagogue or that the total perpetual care trust fund principal ever exceeded the $552,346 that is shown on Shaare Zedek’s records and that Shaare Zedek currently holds in trust.

We are confident that our position will be vindicated if and when the court reaches the merits of the plaintiff’s claims.