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Shameful neglect at East LA's Mount Zion Jewish cemetery (photos)

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

Toppled headstones at East LA's neglected Mt Zion cemetery. John Rabe

In a Los Angeles Times Column One story, Hector Becerra writes, "The neighborhoods of East L.A. and Boyle Heights have long served as an archive of Los Angeles’ multicultural history — Ellis Islands for transplants from the East and across the Pacific — and in more recent years, from Mexico. Nowhere is this more evident than in their graveyards."

He lists them. The Serbian and Chinese cemeteries, "sprawling Evergreen Cemetery," Home of Peace, where Hollywood moguls are buried. "And then there's Mount Zion, a graveyard with a hard-luck history."

Founded in 1916 to bury indigent Jews, Mount Zion — near where the 5 and 710 freeways cross —  has been almost totally abandoned. The last burial, Becerra says, was six years ago, but that was an anomaly. The most recent dates on the other headstones are in the 1980s.

Vandals have toppled many headstones and tagged some, and somebody used them for target practice and apparently stole little ceramic picture discs of the dead.

Becerra couldn't track down a current owner. The last owner on record was The Masonic Association, which is defunct, and since 1974, the Home of Peace cemetery and the Jewish Federation, headed by Jay Sanderson, have provided maintenance. 

Sanderson told Becerra, "It's an interesting moral dilemma if you think about it. We try to do the best that we can do. We can do more, yes. But the question is, what are we not going to be doing if we do that?"

As Becerra says, there's no money in a cemetery without a crematory, without burials. "You can't flip a cemetery," he says.

But didn't the article shame a politician or Jewish leader to step up, I ask? He got lots of calls from readers, some of whom said they'd try to mobilize help, and at least one politician, who didn't give a firm commitment.

In the meantime, the concrete continues to crack, the cypress trees continue to shed all over the place, and hundreds of graves remain desecrated.

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