My Queens Cemetery Hop

My Queens Cemetery Hop
Last Thursday, early in the morning, I took a train from Baltimore to New York in order to visit several graves.
What prompted this first trip to New York City in 25 years? And what prompted me to visit those specific graves that I’d never visited before?
Well, I had a flight out of Newark Airport Thursday night, and the day before I left Israel it occurred to me that it would be amazing to visit the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the first time before I flew home.
And then, a few days later, it occurred to me that my grandparents and great-grandparents are also buried in Queens. And I’d never been to their graves either. Of my Great-Grandmother Jenny Celia, whom I was named after. And of my grandfather Joel Meyer, and great-grandfather John L., whom my oldest son, Yoel Elchanan was named after. And my grandmother, Florence Esther, whom my oldest daughter, Hadas, was named after.
And then, a few hours later, it occurred to my husband that the parents, grandparents, and brother of our dear family friend, Nancy, are also buried in Queens.
So, with a full itinerary of cemeteries to visit, I set off. The race was on. Not sure how many cemeteries I would manage to fit in before my 5 pm train to the airport.
When my mom OBM would visit new places, people would frequently ask her, “Can I help you?” She would laugh about that. How her face would effortlessly broadcast “lost and confused,” drawing helpful people to her like bees to honey.
And I guess I have that same kind of face. Because when I arrived at the Visitors’ Center of the Ohel a woman looked up at me and said, “Can I help you?” And then, “Oh, I actually think I know you!”
Turns out this shlucha from Texas had read my first book Expecting Miracles (which she said she had thought of as “a farbrengen of mothers”). And after that, she took me under her wing. Showing me how to write my first pidyon nefesh and where I could find non-leather slippers to wear (as a sign of mourning) when I went to the Ohel.
And then I called a car service to take me to the Freedman-Bernstein plot at the Mount Lebanon Cemetery way on the other size of Queens. Queens, I realized, is gigantic! And Mount Lebanon Cemetery is, as well. I didn’t know how I would possibly find my family graves in that metropolis of the dead. And then I asked a groundskeeper if he could help me, and he insisted on walking me the entire way, left and right and around and up and down until we found them. I got so emotional to see the family graves. It felt like a family reunion of sorts, to visit my ancestors, who had all been lying there all together for so many decades.
And then my last stop before Newark. To find the family plot of our dear friend Nancy. At the Mount Hebron Cemetery, not far from Mount Lebanon. I stopped at the cemetery office to get a map. And after some searching I found the plot of the Smorgon Burial Society, where Nancy’s family members are buried.
“That was easy!” I thought.
But then I wandered around and around, up and down the line of graves back and forth, for maybe 20 minutes. I couldn’t find the graves anywhere. And there was no helpful lady, as there had been at the Ohel. And there was no helpful groundskeeper, as there had been at Mount Lebanon. In fact, I didn’t see any groundskeepers anywhere around.
And then my heart jumped. I’d found Nancy’s relatives! I said some tehillim and requested that Nancy’s deceased relatives should be advocates for her in Heaven, for good health and happiness.
And then I noticed something that made the hairs on my arms stand up straight, Nancy’s dear Grandma Fannie had died on the 5th of Elul. Which would start at sunset, just a few hours away.
And I thought of all the people who had assisted me that day, to get where I needed to go and find whom I needed to find.
Thanks to Nechama from Texas. And to the groundskeeper. And to Jonathan the car-service driver, who drove me from one side of Queens to the other, and back again. And to Grandma Fannie A”H who helped me find her, just in time.


  1. The title of this article is very intriguing based on the queen of England just passing.

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