"A black market in Jewish graves is hiding in plain sight on the classified pages.
"Defunct Jewish burial societies have been selling cemetery plots at bargain basement prices through classified ads on Craigslist and in the print edition of the Forward — even though New York and New Jersey state laws bar these sales.
"Each sale of a New York grave by a burial society on the open market could be punishable by up to six months in jail, according to the state’s top cemetery regulator, though no one has ever been prosecuted. New Jersey law carries no such penalties, but still prohibits the sales.
"Only cemeteries are generally allowed to sell cemetery plots on the open market in New York and New Jersey. But in the two states’ Jewish cemeteries, mutual aid societies, called landsmanschaften, own huge inventories of empty graves. Founded at the turn of the past century by Jewish immigrants from the same town or region in Europe, the societies bought up large tracts of cemetery land, erected stone gates lined with the names of the societies’ officers and readied plots for their dues-paying members.
"Today, many of those societies and congregations have disappeared, leaving behind empty, unclaimed graves.
"As the societies have withered away, control of the organizations and their assets has passed down within families. The officers who now run the landsmanschaften — often the children or grandchildren of earlier officers — have found themselves responsible for cemetery land worth hundreds of thousands of dollars."