Save a Fellow Jew From Cremation!
(Scroll to end to see all supporting documentation)
This past Rosh Hashana Mr. Martin Mendelsohn went downstairs to the recreation room of Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley, NY to listen to the shofar. On Tuesday afternoon he passed away peacefully in his sleep. To date he has not been buried.
Martin Mendelsohn lived a simple life. A long time accountant for the city of New York he remained single his entire life, his only family a brother living on the West Coast. Martin lived out his retirement years in various adult homes; all glatt kosher facilities with a shul on premises.
Martin was a beloved figure at Evergreen- friendly, warm, kind and gentle. Every morning he delivered his newspaper first to his 95 year old neighbor; he would read it only once she was done. He went to shul on shabbos and paid his annual fees for the Pesach Seder meals as well as for the chazzan for the High Holidays.
His brother Stephen, demands that Martin be cremated. Mr. Chesky Schonberger, the owner of Evergreen Adult Homes and an Orthodox Jew, refuses to allow this abomination to occur. He has launched a legal battle that has thus far cost upwards of $30,000 and is poised to set a legal precedence which could have long lasting ramifications for Orthodox Jewry across the United States; providing the necessary funds are raised to allow the fight to continue.
“I called the funeral home the moment I heard that Marty, who was my friend, had passed away. Like I do for all residents, I offered to pay any additional expenses to ensure he received the highest level burial according to Jewish custom. I was shocked and dismayed when the funeral owner told me the body was scheduled for cremation on Monday.”
Mr. Schonberger immediately contacted Martin’s brother and after expressing his condolences, offered to pay for the expense of shipping the body to California as well as all expenses that would be incurred for a Jewish burial. The brother adamantly refused.
There was no swaying the brother and for Chesky Schonberger, no turning back. He consulted with Maran Hagaon Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlita, and was given the psak that this has the din of mes mitzvah and he should proceed ‘with all his abilities and strength’. After speaking with Agudas Yisroel and Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, as well as other Rabbanim and leading daas Torah including Rav Yisroel Dovid Schlesinger, Chesky retained the services of a lawyer, who though upfront about the slim chances of winning a stay, took up the case. He instructed Mr. Schonberger to collect any and all evidence that could help prove that Martin would have been opposed to being cremated based on his belief system.
A photo of him attending shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana, taken by a non-Jewish nurse moved by the sight, first hand testimony from the Rabbi of a previous home where Martin resided and attended minyan; these became part of the evidence package frantically put together and brought to the court on Friday at 5 pm. The judge summarily dismissed their request. They found another judge and at 10 pm Sunday night were granted the stay. The funeral home was served the restraining order Monday morning mere hours before the cremation was scheduled. The cremation of Martin Mendelsohn would not go forward, but the battle was just beginning.
Stephen Mendelsohn was furious. He located former Federal Judge, Richard Holwell who was willing to take on his case pro bono. He remains determined to see his brother cremated.
On October 8th, Mr. Stephen Mendelsohn appeared in Rockland County Supreme Court together with his lawyer. During questioning conducted by Beth Finkelstein, counsel for Mr. Schonberger, Mr. Mendelsohn admitted under oath that both his parents were buried according to Jewish law and that his brother Martin sat shiva for his father, lit memorial candles and covered the mirrors. “My brother and I argued. I wanted my father cremated and my brother said my father must have a burial.” He described how both he and his brother attended Hebrew Day school in the Yeshiva of Bensonhurst.
Rabbi Binyomin Kelsen, Esq. of Teaneck, NJ, a musmach of Yeshiva University, Dayan, Rav and expert on all factions of Judaism was in court as the professional witness accepted by both sides. His testimony centered on the essence of mesorah and the differences between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform practices. Judge Victor Alfredi asked numerous questions and concluded the proceedings with one pivotal inquiry: “In your expert opinion, having heard all this testimony, do you think Mr. Martin Mendelsohn would have wanted to be cremated?”
“One hundred percent not!” was Rabbi Kelson’s adamant response.
As such, it would seem that the legal argument was successfully made that Mr. Stephen Mendelsohn is negating the law that the next of kin should adhere to the wishes of the deceased. However, ruling in favor of Mr. Schonberger would set into motion a hitherto unprecedented legal battle. Never before has someone with the legal status of “friend” successfully challenged a next of kin regarding burial of the deceased based on his/her wishes and religious beliefs. The judge succumbed to the pressure exerted by the defendant’s lawyer and ruled against Mr. Schonberger.
Chesky, currently represented by Dennis E. A. Lynch of Feerick Lynch MacCartney PLLC, is awaiting word on whether or not this case will be pushed up the next rung of the justice ladder to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division: Second Judicial Departmen. One thing is for certain, he will not back down without a fight.
But this battle cannot be fought without funding. Mr. Martin Mendelsohn awaits burial and it is up to us, to step forward, join the fight, and provide the money necessary to ensure that Martin be buried as he would have wished: as he lived, with dignity and love for the Jewish faith.
Please act now. Join forces with Chesky Schonberger, Isaac Leider, Chesed Shel Emes and all of Klal Yisroel and be a part of the ultimate chessed shel emes. Contribute generously so that Mordechai ben Reuven should be brought to kever Yisroel.
Psak Halocha from hagaon harav Chaim Kanievsky Shlit"a
Read Rockland County court proceedings here, here , here, here
Letter from Chesed Shel Emes to Judge offering free burial to Martin Mendelsohn
Rockland County Judge's decision to denyMartin his deserved Jewish Burial
Opposition for motion to stay pending appeal , and Affirmation of opposition
11-16-15 Notice of Entry of 11.13 Decision and Order On Motion
11/18/15: Letter to Heather Davis, Court Clerk
11/18/15 Order To Show Cause for Leave to Appeal & for an Emergency Stay
11/18/15: Ivy Affirmation in Support of motion for leave to appeal to court of appeals and for emergency stay
11/23/15 Notice from Court of Appeals Deniying the Stay
11/23/15 Letter to Brother's attorney, offering settlement
Letter from Hellman's Funeral home to court, apparently advocating against issuing a stay.
All funds raised in this campaign will be deposited in a Chesed Shel Emes bank account.
If you prefer donating via check, please make check payable to Chesed Shel Emes, and put in the memo 'Fight Cremation' and mail to 1224 52 St. Brooklyn, NY 11219
For more information you can contact me via GoFundMe.
Chesed Shel Emes
Director of Operations
May Hashem save all our prayers, and bring the ultimate redemption B'karov. Amen.
All Funds raised will go to pay the legal fees.
Copies of invoices to be posted in campaign description.
Moments ago we received devastating news: the New York State Court of Appeals has rejected the appeal for a stay.
At this time the only remaining hope is that during this evening's scheduled conference call, Mr. Stephen Mendelsohn will accept the settlement offer of free burial arrangements and an increased $20,000 to be donated to the charity of his choice in Martin's memory.
Our greatest weapon is always the power of Tefillah.
Please take a moment and recite a kapitel tehillim and beseech Hakodosh Boruch Hu that Mr. Stephen Mendelsohn will somehow find it in his heart to accept the settlement and allow his brother, Mordechai ben Reuven, to come to Kever Yisroel.
One single phrase written in a Rockland County Court ruling has rekindled a glimmer of hope and reignited the fight to bring Mordechai ben Reuven to kever Yisroel.
All hope was seemingly lost when the Rockland County Supreme Court allowed the stay to be lifted and the cremation to move forward. This campaign reaching upwards of $24,000, has made it possible to hire former New York State Appellate Judge, the Honorable Victoria A Graffeo, of Harris Beach PLLC Attorneys at Law, in a last ditch effort to offer a financial settlement that might satisfy Stephen Mendelsohn.
Ms. Graffeo, who along with her fourteen years as an Appellate Judge, has many years experience and expertise dealing with the nuances of Jewish law, reached out the Stephen and offered a $10,000 donation to any charity of his choice in addition to free Jewish burial for Martin anywhere in the world. Mr. Mendelsohn rejected the offer.
Distraught, Mr. and Mrs. Schonberger - the pioneers of this battle - were up late Tuesday night discussing the case and reviewing the papers when a phrase caught Mrs. Schonberger’s eye. What are the two words that have breathed new life into this case? Ironically they are burial arrangements.
The judge, in reviewing his ruling, stated that when Mr. Martin Mendelsohn became a resident at Evergreen he filled out standard paperwork including a Department of Social Services form regarding his wishes upon his passing. DSS Form 2949, logged into evidence during the court case states: Martin, in filling out a statutorily required admission form requesting personal information stated under “Burial Instrucions”…. “Family Taking Care.”
“Doesn’t the word burial specify interment in the ground?!” Mrs. Schonberger exclaimed.
Realizing that they might have stumbled onto something of potentially major consequence, Chezky Schonberger awoke Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Esq. of Agudas Yisroel, with whom he has been consulting throughout. Sure enough, the use of the term burial and the absence of any mention of other after death arrangements were deemed reason enough to attempt to reopen the case.
Isaac Leider, who has been instrumental in assisting Chezky thus far, reached out to their lawyer and her team. Ms. Graffeo immediately got to work drafting a cease and desist letter to Hellman Memorial Chapel where Martin’s body was awaiting transport to cremation. Ms. Graffeo wrote: … We ask that you cease and desist any such process that may be scheduled and ensure that all employees and affiliates are aware that the dispute relating to what should be done with Mr. Mendelsohn's remains has not been resolved, and that the Second Department's order denying a stay is being challenged. The letter was forwarded to Hellman Memorial Chapel first thing Wednesday morning.
This eleventh hour turnabout literally happened in the nick of time; the transport had already arrived to pick up the body!
“There is no doubt in my mind that the tefillos of Klal Yisroel made this miracle possible,” Mr. Schoenberger shared with obvious emotion in his voice. “We now have the highest caliber lawyer working on this very unique case, putting us on equal footing with the opposing side. We need to keep davening but we also need Jews to unite and help finance this incredible opportunity to fulfill the ultimate mitzvah of chesed shel emes.”
Please donate now and help keep the fight going.
$250 – one half hour of legal fees
$500 - one hour of legal fees
Scroll to the bottom of the campaign description to view the latest court documents.
Full details to follow.
In the meantime, lets keep up our prayers for Mordechai Ben Reuven.
Also, please get your friends and acquaintances to donate so we can keep up with the mounting legal fees.
This is a continuation of my previous comment. . .as it got cut off. Which brings me to my second point. Everyone is born with a very tiny bone that CAN NOT and WILL NOT EVER destruct. It is called the LUZ bone. This bone by most opinions is found at the very base of the top of the spine. It holds a person’s DNA. After the entire body deteriorates over time, all that is left of the person is this tiny bone. There are millions of these bones buried in the earth. When the Resurrection of the Dead happens in the future, the DNA in the Luz bone is what makes it possible for that person to be resurrected by God’s power. Jews BELIEVE in the Resurrection of the Dead. During WWII, the Nazis were burning Jewish people in their crematoriums. It is very well known that they had so many of these tiny bones piling up and tried everything they could to get rid of them. They tried burning and crushing them, pounding, dissolving them in acid, anything... but nothing worked. So, now, I ask you, if you asked the low-paying workers at a crematorium today to please watch out for any tiny little bone and anything else that they would find…. and please, please, please put it in with the ashes…..do you think that they will do it? We asked. The daughter had the funeral home director call and ask about this. The answer came back…. “oh, we never see anything.” Naturally, he doesn’t want to be liable. So, WHAT DOES happen to the Luz bone? Probably it gets thrown out into the garbage and into a land-fill somewhere. So, now the Soul watches that too. Not a nice burial for the only part of his body that is left - and needed in the future!!!! So, because of these two points - the immediate, severe agony and pain to the person’s Soul and the future Resurrection - whether that will happen for this person or not (we can not know)…I would make the more merciful decision. If in a situation where a next-of-kin had to make a decision for their loved one…I would not put him through this pain and possibly screw up his chance to Resurrect in the future. I hope the brother in this case, has mercy upon his sibling and not to put his own Soul in future judgment. As he will be judged by God in the future, for his actions today. —————— In getting back to my own personal situation where my mother had signed up to be cremated. I had four other siblings who all thought that they should “honor mother’s last wish.” My older brother told me that I was the only one who wanted to reverse her decision and that the vote had to be unanimous. Two of the four had personally heard my reasons and two had not, but he said that he knows that I will NEVER change their minds and I have to resigned myself to their decision. I had done all that I could and prayed hard to prevent the pain that my mother’s Soul would go through and the strong chance of loosing her Luz bone for the future Resurrection of the Dead. I had to put my prayers in God’s Hands and ask that He intervene. I was up all night serving as her Shomerit immediately after she passed on and I was very tired. Many interesting and spiritual things happened during that night which I’d love to share some time, but to make a long story short….I got a call late morning informing me that there was a problem and that we all needed to meet with the funeral director immediately. As it turned out, the paperwork presented legal problems. My mother signed a document to be cremated ten years before she died at 92 years old. But, at that time, she did NOT sign any papers to STOP the agreement that she and my father had made together in 1986 when bought their cemetery plots. So, NOW, in the Blink of the Almighty’s Eye….the ball was in my court! The funeral director said that she could NOT be cremated unless we all unanimously signed on to that decision. If the five of us could not agree, then the case would go up before a judge who would rule. We would all have to get our own lawyer, no sharing and do so as soon as possible. They all silently looked at me KNOWING that there was no way on the face of this earth that I will “throw in the towel” and sign with them. God had turned this entire situation around! I was still in shock over God’s brilliant use of the state’s legal system and causing the funeral director to make his mistake ten years before….when my brother quietly looked at me, then slowly said that he would “be comfortable burying mom in the same manner as we did for our father”. Then, my sister exclaimed, “Oh wow, I am SO relieved! I didn’t know how I felt, I just thought I should honor mom’s wishes.” Then, the next two gave in and she was buried in the traditional manner. During the next months, I had conversations with all of my siblings and as it turned out, not even one (except for me) knew how they felt about cremation. A few of them even came to thank me for holding fast to my spiritual values, as it was the only reason that provided mom this chance “to rest in peace. Blessings, Devorah Hag
Please - would someone share my letter with the brother of the deceased Mr. Martin Mendelssohn. Or give it to those who are talking with him. I’m sure that whoever is speaking with him has mentioned this, but maybe not. Please allow me to paint the other part of the picture of the cremation process and please if possible, get my comments to the brother. I hope he will heartfully receive and hear my words on behalf of his deceased brother. ––––––––––––––– I, myself, one year ago, was in the difficult position of spending the last two days of my mother’s life with her and my siblings. Much more difficult was that my mother had ‘signed up’ to be cremated several years before. She had reasons that were from the standpoint of a LIVE person thinking about her dead body being infested and eaten by worms. That freaked her out as she told me on several occasions. So she went along with the now popular idea of being cremated - thinking that would prevent her - as a SOUL, a newly-dead person, from watching the bugs eat her flesh. What my mother didn’t realize was that AS A SOUL - a Neshama - she would be experiencing something very very different once she was dead. She, like most of us, didn’t know what was ‘beyond’ her life on earth. As a personal background, I serve as a “Shomerit” in funeral homes when called upon, to sit with the deceased to “watch or guard over” the body by reading Psalms or Tehillim near the body until she/he is “prepared” for proper Jewish burial and then buried - “laid to rest”. In preparation for this service, my Rabbi explained to me what is very, very important for everyone to understand. When the person dies, the Soul or Neshama of the person hovers around the body. It is uncomfortable as it first is confused over the separation from its body. It goes through stages of grieving for it’s body. Then, understands that the separation is going to be just that and that he has ‘died’. From that point on, until the body is buried, the Soul is very concerned over and very anxious as to what is going to happen to its body. And will not “move on” until his body is buried properly. The Soul hovers around the body and watches and feels everything. It feels the pain of separation and feels the pain of what happens to it’s body. It also feels very uncomfortable in this state of being….as my rabbi explained, it is “like being forced to stay in a room full of people who absolutely hate your guts!” “They hate you, despise you, taunt and laugh about you!” That’s the level of “uncomfort and humiliation” that the soul experiences in the waiting process. The only thing that relieves this feeling is hearing words of Tehillim. That’s is where a Shomerit comes in. Many families will immediately ask for someone such as myself, to read Tehillim, all day and all night until the funeral. If it’s a long time before the burial, we recite in shifts, but it’s important that the Tehillim does not stop as it brings much comfort to the Neshama. The Soul watches everything and can not rest until he knows his body is cared for. My mother’s situation had a surprise ending, which I will get to in a minute, but first, I’d like to share an experience that happened about nine months before my mother’s death. I was serving as a Shomerit for a Jewish woman who had also ‘signed up’ to be cremated. At that time, there was one son and one daughter fighting - one to preserve and one to reverse their mother’s decision. The son didn’t understand the spiritual consequences of cremation, while his sister did. He thought he should “honor his mother’s decision”. He was very confused and tormented with having to make the decision that he eventually had to make. Today he lives with his decision and though it is too late, he has come to regret it. While I was serving as Shomerit for this woman, the daughter asked me to find out more of what goes on spiritually with the Soul / Neshama. So I called my rabbi. There are two very important truths that most people do NOT know or understand. These are BOTH VERY SPIRITUAL answers, but ones that must be heard. The first point, as my Orthodox rabbi explained, is that the Soul or Neshama FEELS the extreme pain of being cremated. It WILL FEEL excruciating pain as it watches his body being burned. He will FEEL as he WATCHES. And, what most people do not know, and funeral home directors are NOT ever going to tell you, is that the larger bones that do not burn quickly are put into a large grinding machine that breaks the bones down and pulverizes them. THIS grinding and pulverizing is extremely tortuous for the Soul to watch and FEEL! There are fragments of bone and other foreign objects like pins from hip replacement surgery or any metal pieces that were surgically put into the body at some point that will NOT burn or grind. These pieces are picked out and usually thrown away…. Which brings me to my second point. Everyone is born with a very tiny bone that CAN NOT and WILL NO
Assume this may have been done, but has the brother ever seen an actual cremation (perhaps via UTube) and what happens to the body? Maybe that would have some shock value.
My mother a"h worked for Chesky Schonberger and his family for many years. Based on my own personal experiences with how he treated my mother, including during her final illness, I can personally attest that he goes above and beyond what is required or even expected to help a fellow Jew. I believe that his motives are pure and selfless, and that 100% of any donation to this campaign will go towards the stated objective. In addition to my own donation, I can only include my prayers for a successful outcome. May HaShem bless your efforts through fruition, Chesky.