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March 29, 2013 5:26 pm

LA’s Mount Zion: The Forgotten Jewish Cemetery

avatar by Zach Pontz

Gate outside a Jewish Cemetery. Photo: wiki commons.

Mount Zion, despite its lofty name, is in tatters. Not the hill in Jerusalem mind you, but the cemetery in Los Angeles where famous Yiddish writer Lamed Shapiro is buried. Unlike its neighbor, Home of Peace, a Jewish cemetery that boasts among its residents two of the Three Stooges, Mount Zion has fallen on hard times, its gravestones knocked over, weeds sprouting here and there.

Home of Peace is the guilded home for a peaceful afterlife, for those who might have lived a more peaceful life. Mount Zion on the other hand was opened in 1916 by a burial society dedicated to provide free burials for poor Jews. Shapiro himself died destitute and mostly unknown.

Home of Peace and the Jewish Federation agreed to look after the cemetery many years ago, but neither organization knows who actually owns the property, and county records are inconclusive, listing the name of the apparently defunct burial society. Richard George, the director of the Home of Peace, told the LA Times that about $1,000 a month is put into basic maintenance, but still George says, “This cemetery needs money help, I’m personally upset when I walk in here. It’s just shameful.”

Jay Sanderson, the president of the Jewish Federation, told the LA Times that it’s a complicated issue that needs addressing but that nobody really knows what to do, especially because the heirs of the residents of cemetery, which is no longer in use for new burials, have all mostly died themselves.

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“It’s an interesting moral dilemma if you think about it,” he said. “We try to do the best that we can do. We can do more, yes. But the question is, what are we not going to be doing if we do that?

“This is a cemetery in need most people don’t know exists,” Sanderson said. “It’s a cemetery that no longer really belongs to anyone.”

Robert Adler-Peckerar, executive director of Yiddishkayt, an organization dedicated to preserving the Yiddish language and culture, visited the cemetery in search of Shapiro’s tomb and was taken aback by its condition.

“There’s a cemetery in New York that’s like the pantheon of Yiddish writers,” Adler-Peckerar said. “This is the complete opposite… This is what happens when people are left behind.”

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