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July 17, 1987 - Image 26

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-07-17

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Machines aid in labor-intensive maintenance.

mark the graves that will be planted
with summer flowers.
Moments later a pickup truck
delivers a 15-foot-long trailer loaded
with trays and trays of begonias, dus-
ty miller and alts. In just a few,
frenetic days more -than 180,000
plants will go into the ground, enough
for about 6,000 graves. The summer
flower fee is $36 annually, or a one-
time payment of $750 for perpetual
"These flower beautification pro-
grams are a big business;' says
Hebrew Memorial's Hochheiser. This
year the 90-acre memorial park, the
largest Jewish cemetery in Michigan,
will plant flowers on 8,000 graves.
About two-thirds are paid for annual-
ly at $25, the remainder under a $500
perpetual care prograin which goes
into a trust fund managed by the Na-
tional Bank of Detroit.
Actually, planting flowers for an
annual fee is more of a nicety than a
money-generating activity. Little is
left after figuring the cost of labor.
(For that reason most non-Jewish
cemeteries eschew live floral decora-
tion which remains the most ap-
parent difference with their Jewish
counterparts.) Cemeteries sustain
themselves through their trust funds.


FRIDAY, JULY 17, 1987

Hebrew Memorial's trust is
around $750,000. Clover Hill on the
other hand, owned by Cong. Shaarey
Zedek, has three funds totaling $5.2
million (an amount viewed as rather
attractive in the for-profit sector) in-

Visitors make a
careful path .. .
Nearby, two
workers walk
with different
deliberation. They
mark the graves
that will be
planted with

vested through the New York firm
Lazard Freres & Co. The portfolio —
about 70 percent in common stocks as
opposed to very safe, but low-yield
government-guaranteed issues — is
handled by a third-party money

manager. Basically, that's someone
who plays the market. And that kind
of account management, which is
seen as the wave of the future, is com-
paratively sophisticated among
cemeterians. Other area cemeteries
declined to comment on their trust
Hefty trust funds, portfolios and
profits were not planned, or even
necessary, early in the century when
many cemeteries were being formed.
Hebrew Memorial was founded as a
communal organization, designed to
serve the community; that's still its
The adjacent Workmen's Circle
cemetery was founded in 1913 to
serve its members by providing free
burial space. Over time, the fraternal,
left-leaning labor organization sold
parts of its Roseville site to ten other
associations, landsmanshaften and
synagogues. The cemetery now looks
like a little subdivision. Although
neatly sectioned off by a variety of
walls and fences, the separate entities
act as a group to maintain the entire
cemeteries had modest beginnings,
says Phillip Applebaum, past presi-
dent of the Jewish Historical Society

of Michigan. He says immigrants
came to Detroit and formed self-help
groups based on a shared homeland
or ethnicity. Called landsmanshaften
or fareins, these support groups
established their own graveyards,
often at adjacent properties as at
Workmen's Circle. And some
synagogues also established their
own burial grounds.
"(The synagogue cemetery) was
often used as a profit center," says Ap-
plebaum. "It required little
maintenance, so often quite a bit of
money was left over" to fund other ac-
tivities or congregation projects.
Although there is a reluctance
within the religious interment in-
dustry to talk about earnings, certain-
ly there is money to be made. Last
year the Houston-based Service Cor-
poration International earned $14
million on cemetery-related revenues
of $61 million. But that's on a grand
scale: the $264-million company owns
92 cemeteries nationwide, as well as
309 funeral homes and other funeral
service businesses.
Closer to home, and more down to
earth, LePage, formerly with
Associated Cemeteries of Michigan,
says, "I personally have no awareness

Continued on Page 28

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