The Central Islip Cemetery Restoration Project
The Jewish Law Institute has entered into an agreement with the New York State Office of Mental Health to embark upon the Central Islip Cemetery Restoration Project. Through the project, Touro Law Center will help maintain a Jewish cemetery, which currently sits adjacent to the Law School for patients from nearby psychiatric hospitals. The Jewish cemetery is part of a larger cemetery, which serves as the resting grounds of approximately 5,000 former patients of the Central Islip State Hospital. The project aims to help restore the larger cemetery as well.
The project represents a joint effort by several members of the Touro Law Center faculty and administration. Partners in the project include the Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries, the Central Islip Civic Council, the North Great River Civic Association, and the Central Islip Historic Preservation Society. In addition, Jewish Law Institute has joined with the North Shore Jewish Center to hold prayer services in memory of those buried in the Jewish cemetery.
The cemetery has important historical and religious significance, but at present, the cemetery is not accessible to the public. The cemetery is currently maintained by Pilgrim State Hospital, and while it is mowed from time to time, there is a nearly solid wall of brush, vines, and low shrubbery that makes it impossible to view the cemetery from the outside. The cemetery is also surrounded by a rusting, chain link fence that is locked. Inside the cemetery, there is considerable evidence of trespassing and vandalism. For example, the monument that memorializes the Jewish section of the cemetery has been defaced. In addition, the gate around the Jewish cemetery is rusted and in a state of disrepair.
The project aspires to restore the cemetery in a way that will allow it to be open to the public for visitation as a place of reflection, consistent with respect for the interred. The proposed name for the larger cemetery park is Central Islip State Hospital Memorial Park. The proposed name for the Jewish cemetery is Central Islip State Hospital Memorial Park : Bais HaChaim-Chesed shel Emes. This translates as the House of Eternal Life and True Kindness, and was the name originally given to the Jewish cemetery.
In addition to serving the ideals of kavod hameit—respecting the dead—and serving the local community, the project aims to assist relatives of patients buried in the cemetery. At present, the records of burials in all of the New York State hospitals are kept by the Office of Mental Health, which has adopted the policy of keeping the burial records for state mental hospitals confidential. This has been a source of frustration to those who want to find where their deceased relatives might be buried. However, the Office of Mental Health has indicated a willingness to reveal the probable location of the graves of interred psychiatric patients when a living family member makes such a request. While fully respecting the privacy of those relatives who wish to maintain confidentiality, the project will assist family members who would like to locate patients buried in the Central Islip State Hospital Cemetery.