Author's Note: The Sages of Israel teach that the most selfless kindness one man can do for another is to accompany him to his final resting place-considered sacrosanct in American criminal and Jewish religious law (Halacha). Its sanctity is such that Man, in death, comes closer to God than he ever did in life.
Desecration of a grave and exhumation in particular (permitted only in circumstances of the greatest urgency but still requiring the issuance of a permit by a competent court) are considered abominable acts for which the courts have had little or no tolerance.
"The first Jewish emigrants from Drohitchin started arriving in the United States during the decade of the 1870(s). Thereafter and until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, there was an intensive stream of emigration from Drohitchin to the United States." (The Drohichen Yiskor Book, Drohiczhn; 500 years of Jewish life)
Chicago became one of two great centers of Drohitchen Jewish life, the other, New York. Especially well to do in Chicago, Kehilath Jacob (aka Beth Jacob), House of Jacob, Anshe Drohitchen, the House of Jacob (from) the people of Drohitchen (BJAD) became the owner of two congregational burial sites. Its primary graveyard, for which it paid $7,500, was part of the vast Waldheim Cemetery complex in Forest Park, Illinois.
Referring to its smaller Morton Grove, Illinois congregational cemetery, the Drohitchen Yiskor Book, Drohiczhn; 500 years of Jewish Life mistakingly gives Milwaukee Avenue rather than Waukegan Road as the correct street location. Intended for those who might prefer a bit of countryside "peace and quiet" in the hereafter as an alternative to the clutter of high population density in Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago Tribune reporter Joe Black, in a 1998 news story, comments: "The Jewish cemetery, founded about 1870 on Waukegan Road south of Dempster Street, was the final resting place for members of the defunct Kehilath Jacob Anshe Drohiczen congregation, whose synagogue was on Chicago's West Side. The last burial took place in 1937, and the cemetery has long since been neglected."
Prior to 1937, between the time of its founding through the first decade of the twentieth century Kehilath Jacob in Morton Grove off Waukegan Road between Oakton and Dempster Streets functioned no differently than other cemeteries, receiving varying numbers of visitors primarily on weekends and, as always, dependent on weather and travel conditions.
Transportation then was not what it would later become. Roads were largely unpaved and probably untravelable on rainy days. A road trip from the "old west side" of Chicago to "faraway" places like Morton Grove, even in the heyday of the Ford Motor Company, might take as long as a half day. Back then, it was an even longer half century before the construction of the Edens Expressway.
Although it cannot be determined with any precision, the "living" Morton Grove branch cemetery of Kehilath Jacob Anshe Drohitchen began a period of serious slowdown coincident with the invariable passing of extended family members and friends of Jacob Scotch, Mr. and Mrs. Abraham and Bessie Pill, Fannie Weinstok, et. al. The children of the Morton Grove "Drohitchen(ers), as still happens to the first-born generation of Americans of immigrant parents, became disinterested in traditional Jewish customs.
So things continued down this path of decline until what had been the living Morton Grove branch cemetery of Kehilath Jacob Anshe Drohitchen not too long before, died. There was no provision for perpetual care due to the closing of the Drohitchen synagogue in Chicago. In time, the graveyard became overgrown with weeds and littered with trash.
"Growing up in Morton Grove in the '70s, my friends and I used to play in the old cemetery. There were overturned headstones among the overgrown weeds and empty beer cans. The inscriptions were mostly in Hebrew, but some of the death dates were pre-1900 if I recall. Many tombstones were broken … (Years later),the area was cleaned up and the headstones re-erected within the newly-named "Shermer Park" in the '90s.”(quotations of Mike Touhy, http://www.forgottenchicago.com/forum/1/860/beth_jacob_cemetery__morton_grove_niles.
Mr. Touhy further explains how he first learned about the city of Morton Grove's interest in developing the property into an industrial park. The city backed off, however, when it learned that physical remains would have to be disinterred.
The Devco Realty Co. later expressed a similar interest in developing the property but without the scruples regarding disinterment. When word leaked out that a powerful realty company sought to move bodies if need be, popular protest arose. Led by the Jewish Federation of Chicago, any plans to exhume or build atop any physical remains (if indeed they could be removed at all without destroying them because the bodies had been buried according to orthodox Jewish custom, dressed and enwrapped in burial shrouds by volunteer Jewish burial societies, without the use of coffins) were dropped when the owner of Devco died just as opposition began to heat up.
Uncertainty to this day persists about the number and location of the "Drohitchener" remains, but what we do know is that a great many of their headstones were saved and reset midway between the western and eastern halves of Shermer Park, just north of and adjacent to a residential cul-du-sac (Hamilton) in Morton Grove, Illinois and bounded by Shermer Road to the west and Waukegan Road to the east. Though not the site of the original cemetery, it offers some refuge to lingering souls and to the memories of the Drohitchener Jews whose headstones may provide the only extant record of their lives.
Who was Samuel Bernard Baskin?
"My great-grandfather, Samuel Bernard Baskin, sought freedom in America. When he died in 1904, he was buried in a Jewish cemetery in Morton Grove," recalls Josephine Baskin Minow. In her "Letter to the Editor", Mrs. Minow, a great granddaughter of Samuel Bernard Baskin, writes: "More than 20 years ago, a local TV station broadcast a story about an attempted destruction of the cemetery. I saw my great-grandfather's tombstone toppled over, lying damaged on the ground. Enraged, I went to the cemetery. I would not allow his final resting place to be desecrated."
And she proved herself true to her word.
This writer, in researching this story, found "Reb Baskin's" headstone lain flat and covered over with a thin layer of mud that I scraped away before photographing it.
And of Jacob Scotch?
Frankly, there is not much known about him beyond a few bits of information scratched on his headstone. It is amongst the poorest in the field and sits next to Rosy Siegel's headstone. The two stones are curiously alike in appearance. Interestingly, Rosy died on October 28, 1902, only nineteen days after Jacob's death on October 9, 1902.
Some of the headstones, such as those of Abraham and Bessie Pill, Morris Bletcher, David Olenick, Louis Goldin, Rebecca Yampolsky, Rosa Schallman, H. Lowenthal, Solomon Lotziver, Barney Sholder and Zeloe Berman are in excellent condition. Others did not share such "mazal". They became the victims of wind erosion, physical damage due to hooliganism and sinkage. More important though than their physical condition, the headstones serve as a partial reminder to us of what was once a great Chicago synagogue community.
Herein are the names from the headstones of the Jews of Kehilath Jacob Anshe Drohichen that I could read which lie or stand re-erected in Shermer Park. If you like, you can say Kaddish for any and all of them After all, if not you ...
1. Jacob Scotch, Born 1818, died October 9, 1902
2. Rosy Siegel, died October 28, 1902
3. Abraham Pill, born 1845, died April 25, 1926.
4. Bessie Pill, wife of Abraham Pill, born 1858, died February 25, 1929, aged 71 years.
5. Barney Sholder born 1863, died September 12, 1908.
6. H. Lowenthal, born 1825, died June 24, 1903.
7. Rebecca Yampolsky, born 1859, died November 9, 1905, aged 46 years, daughter of Reb Hillel.
8. David Olenick, born 1871, died May 6, 1928, aged 57.
9. Morris Bletcher (Moshe Ha Levi bar Simcha) died April 23, 1906, aged 50 years.
10. Sarah Zagranitchna
11. Louis Goldin
12. Rosa Schallman
13. Soloman Lotziver
14. Zeloe Berman
15. Shlomo Bernard Baskin
16. Kate Bass
17. Fanny Weinstock
18. Mary Levine
19. Hyman Rosenthal
20. Harry Balaban
... then who and when?
1.Drohiczhn; 500 years of Jewish life
(Drahichyn, Belarus) 52°11' / 25°09'
Translation of Drohiczyn; finf hundert yor yidish lebn
Edited by: Dov Warshawsky, Book Committee Drohichyn
Published in Chicago, 1958
2. Chicago Tribune Articles
Special thanks to reader and friend Renee Gale for her input.