[To donate, click here. ]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.
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
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