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The Saddest Things About East LA's Abandoned Jewish Cemetery

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In the twentieth century, Boyle Heights and East LA were LA's version of Ellis Island--home to a wide assortment of immigrants and ethnic groups--and in the first half of the century in particular, the area had an enormous Jewish population (Canter's started in Boyle Heights). There are almost no Jews left anymore, and today the LA Times introduces us to a depressing remnant of the old days: the Mount Zion Cemetery, originally opened in 1916 "by a burial society dedicated to provide free burials for poor Jews." It's chained up, its graves have been knocked over and vandalized, and no one's even sure who owns it at this point. Here's just a small roundup of sad things about this place:

-- "Where other cemeteries featured vast expanses of trimmed grass, handsome columns and statuary, Mount Zion was mostly concrete and dirt."

-- "A sign stamped on a wall of bright bougainvillea on Downey Road asks visitors to call a neighboring graveyard if they want to go in. The phone number doesn't exist anymore."

-- "hundreds of tombstones were on the ground, some lying like small, toppled Stonehenges. On one tomb, a vandal scrawled a cryptic graffiti: 'Here lies Horse. RIP.'"

-- "Throughout the cemetery, rounded, oval photographs set in enamel lay on the ground. The caretaker, Lupe Munoz, said vandals probably used rocks or screwdrivers to pry them off."

-- It's home to the grave of Lamed Shapiro, a great Yiddish writer "of gruesomely dark stories of pogroms in Eastern Europe who died a pauper in Los Angeles in 1948. Shapiro's tombstone, in the shape of an open book, had rolled to the ground like a decapitated head but, by a stroke of fortune, landed face-up." Shapiro was known for his "stories bathed in hyper-violent acts of murder, rape and even cannibalism."

-- During Prohibition, "the cemetery hosted the funeral for a murdered 'alcohol broker.' 'No big shots were at the funeral,' it was reported in the Los Angeles Times, 'although a number of lesser lights from the underworld appeared both at the undertaking parlors and the cemetery.'"

-- In 1932, a 50-year-old man "shot himself in the head inside Mount Zion. A second bullet pierced his heart, apparently the result of a reflexive movement of his gun hand after the first pierced his skull."

-- "[Neighboring Jewish cemetery] Home of Peace and the Jewish Federation agreed to look after the cemetery many years ago, but neither organization knows who actually owns the property, and county records are inconclusive, listing the name of the apparently defunct burial society."

-- In the early '90s, "the federation sent a letter to all known living heirs of Mount Zion's dead. 'They were almost all elderly people living on fixed incomes,' [the president of the Jewish Federation] said. 'Since then, they've all passed away....'"

-- While Home of Peace Jewish cemetery has about 100 burials a year, Mount Zion hasn't seen one in about six years.
· Jewish dead lie forgotten in East L.A. graves [LAT]