Looking out for landsmen

Looking out for landsmen

Immigrant society donates burial site to veterans

When a Jew dies, it is the responsibility of the community to guard, prepare, and bury the body according to halacha.

Thus among the foremost concerns of the Rachov Independent Society, founded in 1919 on the Lower East Side of New York City, was to establish a community burial site.

This photo of the Rachov Indepedent Society was taken in 1940. Photo courtesy of Melvin Kaplan

More than 89 years later, the still active landsmanshaften, or Jewish community of immigrants from the same European town, donated two gravesites to be used for an indigent veteran who is a member of a Jewish War Veterans post in New Jersey and for his or her spouse.

Melvin Kaplan, commander of the JWV Post 651 of Fair Lawn, arranged the contribution.

"When our ancestors came to our country, one of the important things that they did was to form a group of their own people," said Kaplan, secretary of the Rachov Independent Society. "They formed organizations and purchased burial property," he told The Jewish Standard. When you were born, you had to provide a place for your[self and your] brethren."

The town of Rachov (Rach?w), Poland, today known as Annopol, had a rich Jewish history. According to "Racho-Annopol: Testimony and Remembrance" (Tel Aviv, 1978), the Jewish community there can be traced to the 16th century and consisted of scholars, craftsmen, and merchants. There was a large farming community and 80 percent of the town was Jewish. Rachovites formed Jewish and public schools and social clubs and participated in theater and sports. However, after World War I, the town steadily declined and many Jews sank into poverty. Around the mid-19’0s, the Rachovites formed socialist and Zionist Jewish youth organizations such as Hechalutz and Hashomer Hatzair.

In September of 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, refugees from surrounding villages fled to Rachov-Annapol. The Nazis crushed the Polish army and occupied Rachov without any resistance, where they established a Judenrat, a governing council made up of Jews but doing the Nazis’ bidding. In 1940, the Nazis began deporting Jews to labor and concentration camps.

Some sources say that at its height, the Jewish community in Rachov numbered around 1,’00. But "there is no Jewish community left today," Kaplan said. It was decimated during the Holocaust. Nevertheless, he said, its traditions and culture thrived in New York City.

"The waves of Rachov immigrants began around the 1930s," Kaplan said. "In 1940 there were over 400 members. It was a ‘benevolent association’; they formed these organizations for the good and welfare of their fellow man. My father-in- law was a head honcho," Kaplan said.

The Rachov Independent Society owns burial sites in Riverside Cemetery in Saddle Brook and Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge. Members pay yearly dues to maintain the grounds. To be buried in one of their sites, a member must buy a site and file for an interment permit and a monument permit. "The first recorded death was in 19’0, and I still use the permit book today. That’s over 100 years of history," Kaplan said.

"Young people don’t know this past history," he continued. "It’s a shame. When we were young we’d go with our parents everywhere, sit in the corner with games, and listen. Not everybody understands the names behind these organizations. We need a localized understanding [of our own history]."

For more information about the Jews of Rachov-Annapol, see www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Annopol/annopol.html


read more: