Jewish Times
Recovering Our Past
Search for relative reveals ramshackle and forgotten Jewish cemetery
Vivi Abrams / The Jewish Times
From a distance, the hills of graves on Hollywood Drive in Northwest Atlanta seem sliced in half. On the right, flowers and green grass caress measured gravestones. On the left, dead kudzu, thorns and weeds strangle the view of crumbling concrete and marble.
Kevin Berkowitz recently learned that his great-grandmother is buried on the second side and she is not alone. About 60 Jewish graves dating from roughly 1890 to 1920 are nestled in the wooded section of Hollywood Cemetery off James Jackson Parkway, a rundown section of Atlanta blotted with incinerators and landfills.
Over time, the graves have disappeared from the landscape and from the collective memory of most of Atlanta’s Jewish community.
When Berkowitz, who works for Home Depot, found out recently that his great-grandmother, Frieda Tenenbaum, had been buried in Hollywood Cemetery in 1913, he drove there to look for her grave.
"I was expecting something like Oakland Cemetery, where it’s still manicured and kept, and you could find stuff," he said. "I got there and I started walking and I realized, boy, this is a forest. I ended up hiking through the woods for an hour."
Unknown to him at the time, his uncle had gone there on a similar mission 30 years earlier but had found only gangs wandering through the woods.
If Berkowitz had gone to the cemetery in the summer, the route to the graves would have been clogged with impenetrable vegetation. But in February he was able to work his way to a section of the cemetery with Jewish graves. He located only 12 headstones in the weeds, but could not find his great-grandmother’s stone.
Tracking the owners
Berkowitz wanted to find out who was responsible for the cemetery’s deterioration, but the answer was more complicated than he expected.
Hollywood Memorial Park is a corporate entity that merged in 1972 with Monte Vista Biblical Gardens and Magnolia Park, two adjacent cemeteries. Monte Vista next to Hollywood on the hill is the only one that holds regular funerals and is still maintained. And over the years, pieces of Hollywood Cemetery were sold off or possibly auctioned off due to tax default.
In 1997, Atlanta paver Barry W. Wood bought eight acres of land between Hollywood Road and James Jackson Parkway. He didn’t know until March 8  when a reporter started asking questions that a group of Jewish graves was on his property.
"This is really weird," he said, walking among the fallen stones about 100 feet and a steep hill away from the road. "I’ll be damned."
Wood said he bought the land from now-deceased developer Thomas West, who was known for buying land at tax auctions.
Monte Vista Biblical Gardens, Inc., runs the rest of the cemetery which includes several scattered Jewish graves. According to the Georgia Secretary of States office, the registered agent and chief executive of Monte Vista is Joan Sawyer.
Georgia officials are investigating a complaint against Sawyer’s company regarding upkeep at Hollywood Cemetery, according to Kara Sinkule, press officer for the secretary of state.
But Sawyer, who works out of an office at Lincoln Memorial Park cemetery at 2275 Simpson Road, says she does not own the 100 or so tangled acres of Hollywood Cemetery and is not responsible for its upkeep. At the time people were buried there, Sawyers explains, they bought the plots "fee simple," meaning they were responsible for the care. The deeds to individual plots may still be with the families, she says.
Cemeteries now are required by Georgia law to sell plots with "perpetual care," meaning the cemetery will tend the graves and surrounding property. Monte Vista Biblical Gardens, adjacent to Hollywood Cemetery, is a perpetual care cemetery, Sawyer said. But she said that without perpetual care money for Hollywood Cemetery, which predates the laws, her hands are tied.
According to the Fulton County tax commissioner’s office, taxes on Hollywood Cemetery are paid in full by Hollywood Memorial Park, Inc.
Regardless of who owns the land, nobody disputes that at the very least it could use a thorough clearing and landscaping.
Sawyer wants the state to use prisoners to clean up the land, as it does at Oakland Cemetery.
"It would be a blessing," she said. "I’d love to see it cleaned up. Not only for all the families, but for the city."
Don Hughes, the operations manager for Lincoln Memorial Park  and whose own grandparents are buried in Hollywood Cemetery says he is happy to help people find their relatives in Hollywood.
Some records remain
Lincoln keeps what remains of the Hollywood records and Hughes says he led a young Jewish man to a relatives grave several years ago. Occasionally, someone is still buried there in a family plot, he said.
"If someone wanted to have a burial in Hollywood Cemetery, if they did not own the land, we would offer them property in Monte Vista Biblical Gardens," Hughes said. "All the funerals we’ve had, they’ve owned the property for years, it was passed down from family member to family member. A lot of times we have to depend on other peoples deeds to the property. That’s typical for a lot of old cemeteries; records might not be complete."
State law prevents construction on land that has graves on it, so if someone wanted to build on the Hollywood Cemetery property, he or she would have to get permission from family members of the deceased and pay for relocation of the bodies.
"That land will sit there and be a cemetery until laws change," Hughes said. "It’s dedicated cemetery property and it will always be a cemetery. Even through there’s no burials taking place there, even there are no funds to maintain it and clean it up."
The cemetery’s past
How does a cemetery become a wasteland and just who is buried there?
Franklin Garrett, the renowned Atlanta historian who died a few years ago, wrote about the formation of Hollywood Cemetery in "Atlanta and its Environs," published in 1954.
"As the city expanded into the suburbs in order to provide space for the living, so also did it require additional space for the dead," Garrett wrote. "To partially fulfill this need Hollywood Cemetery was organized in 1890. . . . Today [it] lies in the valley through which run Hollywood Road and the River Car Line. It has spread across the hills bordering this valley, and provides a final resting place for thousands, including many pioneer residents of the Atlanta area."
According to Kenneth Ginburg, a member of the Georgia Jewish Genealogical Society who has tracked Jewish deaths and graves in Atlanta from 1854 to 1999 and compiled several books listing them, Hollywood Cemetery was officially established in 1905, which made it the fourth Jewish cemetery in Atlanta at the time. Greenwood was established in 1904, Westview in 1884 and Oakland in 1850.
Many of the Jews who are buried in Hollywood Cemetery were infants, he said, possibly because Hollywood could have been less expensive.
Ginburg found information about Jews at Hollywood Cemetery at the Atlanta Historical Society and came up with a list of 56 Jewish-sounding names. Some of those graves have been found in the small Jewish section on Wood�s land by James Jackson Parkway.
Other Jewish graves are scattered throughout the rest of Hollywood Cemetery and some have not been found. Also, some graves found in the Jewish plot recently were not on Ginburg’s list.
Frieda’s story
Kevin Berkowitz�s great-grandmother, Frieda Tenenbaum, was a Russian immigrant who came to Atlanta in the early 1900s with her husband and children, Berkowitz said. She became ill and died in 1913.
Her husband was left with a half-dozen children, one of whom was Berkowitz’s grandmother. He registered them with Atlanta’s Hebrew Orphans Home and buried Frieda in Hollywood Cemetery. In the orphanage’s records, Berkowitz found that his great-grandmother died of "stomach trouble." She was 37. He then looked her up in Ginburg’s book to discover where she was buried.
Others buried in the Jewish plot include "Rosa, beloved daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Harris," who was born in Korelitz, Russia in 1898 and died in Atlanta at age 16 in 1915; 3-year-old "Hyman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Abe Boorstein," who died in 1919; and Leizor Drub, buried in 1908. Many of the names and numbers pose questions: Who were Bessie, Isadore, and Israel Goldstein and why did all three die within five days of each other in September, 1910?
Another fallen gravestone is that of Bessie Rebecca Cohen, a Lithuanian immigrant who died in 1910. Her great-granddaughter, Jean Cohen, is active in the Georgia Jewish Genealogical Society.
Cohen, who says she began researching her genealogy in 1978, eventually came upon a World War II-era book recording Jewish organizations and contributions to Georgia. In an inventory of cemeteries, Hollywood Memorial was listed as owned by Congregation Shearith Israel. Berkowitz also has a letter dated 1970, when his uncle began looking for Tenenbaum, that mentions a Shearith Israel connection.
In the letter, former Hollywood manager Tom Sawyer wrote that "plot No. 2" off of James Jackson Parkway was "possibly the old Shearith Israel section." Tenenbaum and her husband were members of that synagogue, Berkowitz said.
Shearith Israel officials aren’t quite sure what might have happened, and Alice Diskin, a member for 75 years, says she never heard of the cemetery.
For the past 50 years at least, the synagogue has buried members in Greenwood and Crest Lawn cemeteries, according to Harold Koslow, a member of the synagogue’s cemetery committee.
Cohen said it took her years to locate Hollywood Cemetery once she found out her great-grandmother was buried there.
"I wonder how many other grandchildren and great-grandchildren don’t know their relatives are here," she said. "When you look at all the other resources you don’t find anything about Hollywood  your standard Georgia and Atlanta genealogical resources. It’s like a secret Jewish cemetery."
The secret Jewish cemetery has few allies, but that may be about to change.
For the past few years, a group of Atlantans has been working with Jewish Family and Career Services (JF&CS) to establish a fund that would pay for burials of indigent Jews and provide money to fix up old cemeteries. The group has raised around $60,000 so far, said organizer Donald Reisman, and established the Joseph Jacobs Workman’s Circle cemetery fund last year to bury poor Jews.
Estimates to fix up two of the many Jewish sections at Greenwood Cemetery alone would take all of the group’s money, and a lot more would have to be raised before a huge project like Hollywood could be attempted, Reisman said.
On the list
Hollywood Cemetery is on a list of cemeteries the committee would like to have cleaned, says Reisman. The group would also like to fix up several Jewish plots in Greenwood and at Roseland Cemetery, a rundown burial ground in South Atlanta that was devastated when the city built an off-ramp for I-75 through the Jewish section.
"The people who used to take care of those cemeteries are just about all gone now," Reisman said. "They have no one to look over them. What we are trying to form is an association under the auspices of Jewish Family and Career Services, someone to be on staff, to oversee these, go out and check them physically."
Leonard Bock, who is working with Reisman, said the group wants to establish an updated database of Jewish gravesites.
"Once we get this thing moving forward, we want to have a central place here in Atlanta that any person can come to and say, My great-grandfather was buried here but I don’t know where. Once he went out there he would not be ashamed of it," Bock said.
Reisman has never visited Hollywood Cemetery, but says he would be interested in finding out how much it would take to buy the property with Jewish graves from Barry Wood. And Wood said March 8 he would be interested in talking with people who want to fix up the cemetery.
It’s not the first time Atlanta’s Jews have had to deal with desecrated cemeteries. The most telling example is at Roseland Cemetery. In 1970, bulldozers moving earth at the cemetery’s Jewish section exposed bones from graves that were supposed to have been moved to another site. In 1999, five Jewish graves remained at the trashed cemetery.
Jews with relatives at Oakland Cemetery had better success. Betsy Teplis spearheaded a project to raise money to restore Jewish graves at the historic downtown cemetery. Last year, the group held a rededication of the area with more than 100 people, she said.
The problem exists statewide. According to the Secretary of States Office, there are untold numbers of deserted graveyards that are unregulated.
Reisman says he would like to change that and now could be the perfect time. With legislators focusing on laws protecting dead bodies in the aftermath of the Tri-State Crematory scandal, Reisman said it’s time to update statutes on old cemeteries created before laws requiring perpetual care were enacted.
"These cemeteries need to be inspected as to their care and their cleanliness," Reisman said. "Just because there wasn’t a law instituted then, something needs to be done so that they are taken care of in some form. Perhaps the state would develop a budget and go into areas that have cemeteries that don’t come under the perpetual care law."
Gary Miller, JF&CS executive director, says the money from the cemetery endowment fund must first go to bury indigent Jews. Its ultimate goal, however, would be to repair every Jewish cemetery in Atlanta including Hollywood.
"Certainly we’d want to preserve it for our community," Miller said, adding that to restore Hollywood and other Jewish gravesites could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For his part, Reisman speaks of Hollywood Cemetery with a tone implying the community responsibility he feels for the site. "We’re going to eventually have to find a way to repossess this property and restore it," he said.
These are some of the Jews buried or believed to be buried at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery. The list was compiled by Kenneth Ginburg and the Jewish Times.
Adair, infant
Adair, infant
Arenson, infant
Arnovitch, Baltcha
Aronson, infant
Boorstein, Hyman
Bredosky, Paul Juda
Burger, infant
Cohen, Bessie Rebecca
Conter, infant
Drub, Leizor
Feinstein, Lena Waits
Field, Sarah
Fisher, Elizabeth
Fisher, Mrs. R.E.
Fisher, Dr. W.C.
Fleshner, infant
Fleshner, infant
Freedman, Annie
Freedman, Esther
Freeman, Moses L.
Freeman, Nannie B.
Friedman, Esther
Friedman, Gabriel
Friedman, Moses
Froehlich, Lula
Froehlich, Nathan
Goldstein, Bessie
Goldstein, Isadore
Goldstein, Israel
Goodman, Birdie
Goodman, Byrnie
Harris, Rosa
Haisfield, Mrs. Mary (Moreashe)
Herschkovitch, Edward
Jankle, Goldie
Kalbrish, Zesal
Kauffman, Bessie
Kell, Ann (Dora)
Kerlin, A.C.
Kerlin, Fannie
Koplin, David
Krasner, Bennie or Bernice
Levin, Max
Manen, Emma
Miller, Bertha
Mitchell, Alise
Negin, Margaret
Pearl, infant
Persons, Spiro
Rittenbaum, infant
Robinson (Rolaninitz), David
Ruderman, Rosa
Shaw, Ethel
Shaw, F.M.
Shaw, George W.
Shaw, Gertrude
Shaw, Sarah J.
Singer, Lena
Sterne, Henry
Stowen, Blanch
Tenenbaum, Frieda
Weissman, infant
Wilinsky, infant
Zimmerman, infant
Jewish Tradition Opposes Cremation
Search for relative reveals ramshackle and forgotten Jewish cemetery
Vivi Abrams / The Jewish Times
While members of Atlanta’s Jewish community are concerned about recent events at Tri-State Crematory in northeast Georgia, most are not directly affected because cremation is against Jewish tradition.
Last month, more than 300 bodies were found at the crematory. And families discovered that the ashes they had received were concrete, dirt and other materials. Crematory owner Ray Brent Marsh is being held in jail without bail.
According to Jewish tradition, bodies must be buried as soon as possible after death and care must be taken not to desecrate the remains, explained Rabbi Ilan Feldman of Orthodox Congregation Beth Jacob.
"It’s considered to be a period of great confusion and disorientation for the soul, after death and before burial," he said. "We do not want to have the burden of prolonging that period."
Jewish law relates to the physical remains of a human being with great dignity for two reasons, says Feldman. The first is that the body is considered a tool for serving God and others.
"Therefore even after it finished being the housing for the soul, it is treated with reverence for what it has accomplished," Feldman said.
The other reason is that in Jewish tradition the soul eventually will rejoin the body, he said. Feldman says organ donation is not considered desecration because it does not fully destroy a body and it is done with the purpose of saving a life, the highest priority.
Some Jews elect to have their bodies cremated anyway.
Edward Dressler, funeral manager at Jewish Funeral Care, said that about 10 percent of his customers choose cremation. In those situations, Dressler says, he uses Atlanta Crematory.
He says it’s not his business to remind people that cremation goes against Jewish law. "Somebody may choose cremation and know all about Jewish tradition and Jewish custom," he said. "There could be some kind of personal reasons behind it. The family member who is making the decisions on this could have personal reasons."
Dressler says that some Reform rabbis will officiate at funeral services for those who have been cremated. Whether or not the cremated remains can be buried in a Jewish cemetery is up to the synagogue in charge of the plot, he said.
Feldman said that in one case he allowed cremated remains to be buried in another persons grave, but it was due to a specific circumstance.
"What a rabbi does not want to do is sanction or normalize the cremation of human remains," he said.
Feldman recalled a situation in which an Atlanta woman, Edith Koros, asked for his advice after her brother died in the early 1990s. Both she and her brother were survivors of Auschwitz, and her brother had asked to be cremated.
"She said, Well my parents went up in smoke, why shouldn’t he " Feldman said. "I said, Why would you want to do to your brother what Hitler did to your parents. She listened to me and had a funeral, and was very pleased with it."
Koros, who did not belong to a synagogue, left her estate to Beth Jacob when she died in 2001.
Feldman says the Tri-State case brings to mind violations at a Jewish cemetery in Florida last year where bodies were not buried properly.
"It’s similar in a sense that people who are supposed to be concerned about the dignity of following the wishes of families, in their most vulnerable moments, evidently can become callous and totally focused on business and forget what they’re dealing with," he said.
"It can happen in any profession, any human service can become empty of human meaning to the people providing the service. It’s not a funeral problem, it’s a human problem."