Hebrew Free Burial Association

Chesed shel emet, 300 times a year


“Jews in our city are still dying penniless, many dying alone,” the executive director of the Hebrew Free Burial Association told a fundraising breakfast in Riverdale last week.

“Without the intervention of HFBA, these people would end up in the city cemetery in a mass grave,” Amy Koplow said. “That is the grim fate for more than 1,500 New Yorkers every year.”

Koplow’s organization is determined to ensure that Jewish New Yorkers not suffer that fate, doing chesed shel emet by handling the burial of an average of 300 New Yorkers every year, and assisting with at least 125 additional cases.

“We in this room should be grateful we are blessed to live comfortably in a warm and caring community,” Koplow told 200 people at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. “The reality is far different for many of our bretheren.”

Koplow gave an example, referencing an 82-year-old woman who died in her apartment in Co-op City on March 9 and whose body was still with the medical examiner on April 20 when HFBA found her name on the national data base of unclaimed dead.

The only information listed was her address, age, and place of death. Many inquiries turned up no family.

“Imagine a situation like this,” Koplow said. “When a person dies and leaves no footprint on the earth after 82 years.”

It took weeks of persistence to get the body released to the HFBA. “Our chevra kedusha performed tahara and buried her per halacha with a minyan in attendance so kaddish could be recited,” she said.

“Even though she died alone, she was buried in the presence of, and with the warmth of, the HFBA community.”

The organization, founded in 1888, works to treat everyone with dignity and respect in their final journey. In the week leading up to the Riverdale breakfast, HFBA “arranged 11 burials; since Jan. 1, 106 — of these one-third died where no one could could care for their final needs,” Koplow said.

“In these challenging economic times, many of us do not have the $11,000-plus for a Jewish funeral and burial in a Jewish cemetery.”

At its breakfast, the HFBA honored Phil Clarke (Tikun Olam Award), Shira Silverman (Community Service Award), Susan Cohen (Avodat Hashem Award), Andrew and Dina Kramer (Chesed Shel Emet Award), and Lisa Licht Hirsch and Danny Hirsch (Oskim B’Tzibur Award).

Corrected to properly identify Chesed Shel Emet Award winners.