Vox Tablet

Visiting the Dead

A visit to New York’s Mount Carmel Cemetery highlights how far American Jews have drifted from their immigrant ancestors, geographically and ritually

September 3, 2010
Gravestones at Mount Carmel Cemetery.(Molly Surno)
Gravestones at Mount Carmel Cemetery.(Molly Surno)

In the period before the High Holidays, it’s traditional for Jews to visit the graves of departed family members and recite kaddish, the mourner’s prayer. In the New York area, many of the sprawling Jewish cemeteries date back at least a century and were chosen by immigrant communities seeking a burial place for their landsmen for generations to come. Rabbi Andy Bachman, of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, knows these graveyards well—he often officiates at funerals in Queens and Brooklyn. He took Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry (and photographer Molly Surno—see gallery below) on a tour of Mount Carmel Cemetery in Queens, the final resting place of some 85,000 Jewish New Yorkers including Bella Abzug, Abraham Cahan, and Benny Leonard, and he talked about how changes in burial customs over the past several decade reflect broader shifts in Jewish American life.

Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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