Memory Lane: Boro Park’s Washington Cemetery
Washington Cemetery— situated at the top of Boro
Park—was consecrated as a Jewish cemetery around 1850. The only non-Jews buried in the entire cemetery are the
original owners of the property, and those who were buried prior to its
designation as a Jewish burial ground.
Given Boro Parks' landscape as majority farmland until after the turn of the century, one can imagine that in 1850, this was well outside the city limits of populated metropolis like the Lower East Side of Manhattan or Brownsville. Thus, Washington Cemetery became a place that many chevrahs, burial societies from these Jewish communities purchased sections where their members bought plots--some of which are active to this day.
A certain benefit of inscriptions on headstones is for the living to remember the good ways of those who have passed on, and for them to seek to emulate them. For those living in the shadow of Washington Cemetery, these stones are a reminder to take their examples to heart; Yidden who came to America during very dark times, and fought valiantly to uphold the ways that they knew back home. We give you a glimpse of some of these great men who are interred in Washington Cemetery.
Rabbi Hillel Hakohen Klein, zt"l
Perhaps the most famous and influential of all those buried here is Rav Klein, zt"l. Rav Hillel Hakohen Klein was the Rav of the Ohev Zedek shul for almost 40 years and Dayan on the Rav Yaakov Joseph's beis din. He hailed from Hungary, where he was a Talmid of the Ksav Sofer in Pressburg.
Later he was a maggid shiur in the yeshivah of Harav Ezriel Hildesheimer in Eisenstadt and served as a Rav in the town of Libau, Latvia. After his arrival in the United States in 1890, he was appointed a Dayan on the beis din of Harav Yaakov Joseph, Chief Rabbi of New York.
During the aftermath of WWI, Rav Klein was instrumental in sending aid to the beleaguered Jews of Europe. He was one of the most influential Rabbanim in America of his time. He left the world on 6 Nissan 5686/1926.
Rav Moshe Maisner
Born in 1838 in the town of Deva Vanya, of Hungarian descent, Rav Maisner was also a talmid of the Ksav Sofer in Pressburg. Adas Yisroel was one of most prominent congregations in New York--and also the pulpit of Reb Velvele Margolies. Altogether, he served in rabbanus in NYC for half a century and was mechaber the sefer Mareh Moshe. He was niftar on 19 Tammuz, 1918.
Rav Shimon Finkelstein
Rabbi Shimon Yitzchok Halevi Finkelstein was a true Ga'on who was known as the Iluy of Sladodka. He was a Rav in several U.S. cities, but most importantly in Brownsville of yesteryear. Anyone familiar with Torah can see from his numerous sefarim his sheer brilliance.
He was born in Kovno and was exceptionally close to rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spektor. When he became the rav of ohav Shalom in 1902, then the largest shul in Brownsville, thousands would attend his shabbos derashah.
In his foreword to one of his father's seforim, his son writes: "on the long summer shabbosim, my father would speak for 3-4 hours between mincha and maariv. The audience would sit rapt, in complete attention. In 1911, he fell ill and the doctors warned him to refrain from exerting himself in this way. He, however, continued. When I asked him why, he said, 'every moment that they sit and listen to Torah they are fulfilling a mitzvah. Moreover, many of them are simple people. If they would sit home, they would likely be playing cards, engage in idle or forbidden chatter... or even worse. So how can I stop them."
A testament to his character an discipline: He brought over his elderly father to America. He was very surprised at the honor that was shown to his son in Brownsville--for, back in Europe, he'd not been as developer in his public speaking yet. One day, Rav Finkelstein who was a very heavy smoker, fainted from smoking. His father came over to him and said
All his days and night were spent in hasmadah b'Torah, and his Rebbetzin who took on all the maintenance of the home only urged him on in this endeavor.
Rav Finkelstein left the world on 21 Nissan, 1947.