N.Y. Jewish Community Buys $2.7 Million Funeral Chapel

For those of you who have been dying to see diverse Jewish groups pool ideas, money, and planning to serve the Jewish community during its most trying time, this is the news you've been waiting for.

When Service Corporations International (SCI) had a monopoly over Jewish funeral homes in the New York Area, New York State Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer, brought an anti-trust action resulting in the Plaza Memorial Funeral Chapel at 91st Street and Amsterdam Avenue being sold for $2.7 million. The money came from grants from The Jewish Communal Fund which provided $1 million, long term interest free loans from 8 philanthropic individuals who provided $1.2 million and a grant from the UJA Federation of N.Y.

SCI had owned 4 out of 5 Jewish funeral homes in Manhattan and 7 our of 18 in Brooklyn resulting in prices 30% to 40% higher than some independent funeral homes. For example, after they purchased Riverside Chapel average funeral costs nearly doubled in a 10 year period. They had immediately raised casket prices in amounts ranging from $100 to $2500 and eliminated the least expensive caskets.

Debby Hirschman, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of the Upper West Side, was instrumental in coordinating the organizations and financing for this project. She believes that the Jewish community is strongest through partnerships with synagogues and the JCC's. She gives the real thanks to the Rabbis who initially met to create bereavement programs and support groups and often commented on how harmful costs of funerals were so that when Plaza was ready to be sold they were motivated to deal with the opportunity.

The new not-for-profit organization has been renamed the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel. It will be run by an independent unpaid Board of Directors including 11 rabbis of all denominations, congregational leaders, heads of Jewish social service agencies, leaders of major Jewish communal organizations and philanthropists who helped finance the acquisition. It will be managed by Andrew Fier, the original founder of Plaza and a past president of the Jewish Funeral Directors of America. Board President, philanthropist Albert Engelberg, indicated this was the first time a Jewish community acquired a commercial funeral chapel in order to make it a not-for-profit community owned institution. Larry Zicklin, UJA president, remarked: "For so many years the Jewish community has been taken advantage of so it is excellent to have such a not-for-profit funeral home now available so the community can take care of its own."

Other members of the Board of Directors are:

Robert W. Bloch, Bloch W. Bloch International; Geoffrey Colvin, Park Avenue Synagogue; Moshe Greenberg, Philanthropist; Harold Handler, Jewish Communal Fund; Rachel Neumark Herlands, Congregational Leader; Rabbi Richard Jacobs, Westchester Jewish Center; Peter Joseph, JCC on the Upper West Side; Joel Kazis, Dorot; Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah; Lynn Korda Kroll, Jewish Communal Fund; Rabbi David Lincoln, Park Avenue Synagogue; Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun; Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun; Rabbi Adam Mintz, Lincoln Square Synagogue; Rabbi Yael Ridberg, West End Synagogue; Irvin Rosenthal, Co-founder JCC Upper West Side; Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, Central Synagogue; Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Park East Synagogue; Alan Siskind, Jewish Board of Family & Children Services; Rabbi Mychal Springer, The Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care at the Healthcare Chaplaincy; David Stern, Jewish Association for Services for the Ages; Judy Wesalo Temel, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty; Alan Trager, Westchester Jewish Community Services; Rabbi Gordon Tucker, Temple Israel Center of White Plains; Michael A. Varet, The Rosenwald Foundation; and Audrey Weiner, The Jewish Home and Hospital. Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Avenue (at 91st St.) will primarily service Manhattan, Riverdale and Westchester. They can be reached at 212-769-4400 and are ready to be of service to all those in need.

The two funeral homes in Brooklyn that SCI had to divest itself of were Garlick Funeral Home and Kirschenbaum Funeral Home (both on Coney Island Avenue) and were purchased by Weinstein Family Services of New York.

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