Does JTS have information in the synagogue archives that will help me sell the unused cemetery plots that my grandparents purchased in 1937 through a synagogue which is no longer in existence (the Brooklyn Jewish Center). The cemetery is in Queens, I live in Georgia, and I am the only living descendent of my grandparents. The cemetery says that I do not have the right to sell the plots; only the (defunct) synagogue has that right.
Answer: JTS's Ratner Center Archives indeed holds archives of the Brooklyn Jewish Center and the archives other Conservative synagogues and their rabbis. This archive includes cemetery files, and partial records of deeds and plots.
However, there is a missing link: who can act on behalf of the defunct synagogue? Or does the law require the cemetery to purchase the plots directly from the grandson?
In this case, the New York State Department of State, Division of Cemeteries can handle the situation. According to their Cemetery Bulletin, the lot owner must offer to sell the lot back to the cemetery at the original purchase price plus 4 percent simple interest per annum.
We'd like to thank the Community Association for At-Risk Jewish Cemeteries (CAJAC) for assisting with this query.
For families needing to handle other cemetery plot issues, including arranging permission for a burial in cases where the plots were purchased early in the 20th century through a no-longer-extant landsmanschaft group, we suggest you contact the Office of Miscellaneous Estates, in the Liquidation Bureau of the New York State Insurance Department 212-341-6400.
As this New York Times article explains, the Office of Miscellaneous Estates quickly untangles the legalities and acts as a surrogate for the now-defunct landsmaschaft societies to settle issues regarding burials and cemetery plots--permitting a timely burial.