Store Construction on Cemetery Grounds Unearths Controversy
NORTH RIVERSIDE, Ill. (AP) _ Developers building a group of stores on part of the Jewish Waldheim Cemetery have upset Jewish leaders and relatives of some of the dead buried on three sides of the site.
″Imagine a K mart in the center of Arlington National Cemetery,″ Alan Pearlman said Tuesday. His father and grandparents are buried in the 80-year- old graveyard in this west Chicago suburb.
The issue is seen differently by Larry Hochberg, president of Sportmart, Inc. in suburban Niles, who is building an outlet for his sporting goods, a men’s store and an electronics store at the site near a busy thoroughfare.
″Obviously, we wouldn’t want to do anything that was objectionable or sacrilegious,″ said Hochberg.
″I’m very active in all aspects of the Jewish community,″ he said. ″The last thing we would want (is) to do something to cause terrible pain.″
The development replaces a virtual ″dumping ground″ for dirt on the cemetery grounds, Hochberg said, and with landscaping and a new cemetery entrance, his stores will not be intrusive.
That is little consolation to Pearlman, 42, of Palatine, who said he was shocked and amazed when a workman told him of the project three weeks ago.
″From what I’ve always understood, this is sacred, consecrated ground,″ said Pearlman, who is considering moving his relatives’ remains.
Gertrude Weinstein, president of the Des Plaines Cemetery Corp. that runs the cemetery, said a dwindling local Jewish population led sales of burial plots to plummet.
″We have enough land there for the next 1,000 years,″ she said.
And Joseph Spina, village president of North Riverside, said he thinks the development will be tasteful.
The shopping area is expected to add $150,000 a year in sales-tax revenue to the village treasury, officials said.
In May, two months after the 45-acre cemetery lot was annexed by North Riverside, the village’s planning commission held a rezoning hearing and decided five acres could be used for the stores.
Notification of adjacent landowners was required before the hearing.
But there was no notification of families of those buried in the cemetery, apparently because the plots are rented by long-term lease, Pearlman said.
That bothers Rabbi Paul Greenman, a past president of the orthodox Chicago Rabbinical Council.
″I want to know why the rabbis weren’t consulted on this and why this thing was sprung on the Jewish community,″ said Greenman, adding the case would be considered by the council. Greenman said the council will investigate whether the land for the proposed shopping center was ever intended for graves and if the development would harm existing graves.
Hochberg said he did consult with a rabbi he preferred not to name, and was assured he would not hurt the site.
The development will improve drainage and vandalism protection for parts of the cemetery, he said, noting burial grounds surrounded by commercial development are not uncommon in Chicago.
But Larry Gershkowitz of Des Plaines, whose parents are buried in the cemetery, said that doesn’t help.
″All I can see is a little old woman going in to see her husband or her children ... and finding a shopping center,″ Gershkowitz said. ″This is absolutely rediculous.″