Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cemetery Emerges From Dense Cover By Domenick Rafter - Queens Tribune

Read original...
Once hidden by overgrown weeds and brush, historic Bayside Cemetery is slowly being cleaned up.

For decades, nature has been reclaiming Bayside Cemetery, a nearly century and a half-old Jewish cemetery in Ozone Park.

Situated between Liberty Avenue and Pitkin Avenue, between 84th and 80th Streets, Bayside Cemetery was distinct from two adjacent cemeteries because it looked more like a forest than a graveyard. Overgrown trees and brush have drowned out the gravestones, and the cemetery has also been a target for vandals, with some mausoleums having been opened.

The dilapidated cemetery, the final resting place for more than 35,000 people, had become part of the lore of the neighborhood. Local children would tell stories of ghosts haunting the grounds, and the surrounding neighborhood.

Efforts to get the cemetery's owner, Congregation Shaare Zedek on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, to clean up the site had failed. Despite being sued by the grandson of two people buried in the cemetery, where burials continued through the 1980s, the synagogue said it did not have the money for maintenance.

Now, thanks to the Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries (CAJAC), a Westchester County-based group that helps clean and maintain Jewish cemeteries in the Greater New York area, an army of volunteers have been making progress over the past year, turning the neglected site back into a place to remember lost loved ones. Now, gravestones, monuments and mausoleums, hidden for years by the overgrowth, are reappearing, the stones glistening to riders passing on the train.

"When I first went out there this past summer, the task seemed Sisyphean, it now seems merely Herculean," wrote Peter Kaufman, a volunteer from Brooklyn who has been helping clear the cemetery on his blog InkLake. Kaufman said he first noticed the cemetery while taking the A train to JFK and was disgusted by it. He found some information on the internet and joined CAJAC to help clean it up.

"We want to make the cemetery a place where people can go to remember their loved ones and not feel sick," he said.