Two funerals is one too many

Two funerals is one too many

Remembering Jack Krimsky’s wonderful life, and puzzling at what happened after it ended

Jack Krimsky at  home in Paramus
Jack Krimsky at home in Paramus

Jack Krimsky’s life ended in April 2021, a little more than 100 years after it began.

It was a life filled with love; he was human, so it was not pain-free, but it was a very good life, his daughter and son-in-law, Roni and Steven Rubin of Paramus, said. His death was not unexpected, but he’d lived with the Rubins for 29 years, since his wife, Roni’s mother, died, so it left a big hole in their lives.

What happened after he died — the would-be funeral, in Beth Moses Cemetery way out on Long Island, in West Babylon (of all prophetic place-names), that was postponed because the cemetery had buried another body in his grave — is a wild story, but it cannot be allowed to overshadow Mr. Krimsky’s life.

So, first, and more importantly, the life.

Jack Krimsky was born in Kiev, Russia — it wasn’t part of the Ukraine then, so her father always said that he’d come from Russia, Ms. Rubin said — on January 17, 1921. He came to the United States with his mother, Sophie, his father, David, and his older brother, Sidney, when he was 2 1/2, “so he always considered himself American,” she said. Soon after they arrived, a third son, Harry, was born.

As so many immigrants had to do then, when travel was difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, the Krimskys said goodbye to much of their family back home forever. “My dad’s mother never saw any of her siblings again until she was almost 90, and her baby sister came to America,” Ms. Rubin said. “They saw each other for a few hours at the airport.”

But David Krimsky did have siblings in Brooklyn, who sponsored the young family. Jack Krimsky grew up in East Flatbush.

In their zeal to become as American as possible as soon as possible, the family, including the young brother, who was American-born, spoke English as early and as often as they could.

“My grandfather went into construction,” Ms. Rubin said. The company was called D. Krimsky and Sons; Sidney and Jack were those titular sons.

The company took on at least one job for which it could not be paid in money — the builder ran out — but instead accepted payment in kind. “They offered him a house, so my grandfather, my grandmother, and the boys moved next door,” Ms. Rubin said. That’s next door to the builder and his family — the Aaronsons. The families shared a stoop. Jack was 20 then, and Dorothy Aaronson was 18. Jack and Dotty talked and flirted across the railing that divided the stoop; eventually Jack decided to ask Dotty out. “On their first date, my dad came outside and went to jump the railing and he ripped his pants. He had to go back inside and change before they could go out,” Ms. Rubin said.

Despite that first date — because of it, maybe — they got married, and stayed married until Dotty died in 1993.

All three Krimsky sons were inducted into the U.S. Army to fight World War II; one shipped out to Germany and one to France. As a result, Jack, the middle son, a sergeant in the Army Air Corps, was kept stateside. Most of the time, he was at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. (All three Krimsky sons made it back home.)

Jack Krimsky as a young sergeant in the Army Air Corps

Before Jack was drafted, he got married; he and Dotty exchanged vows in the rabbi’s study, with no guests. They’d wanted to ensure that they’d be married before he was shipped off. Jack was 21 by then, and Dotty was 18.

Eventually, well after the war ended, David retired from D. Krimsky and Sons, and Sidney moved on. Jack, the lone Krimsky still at the company, took over. “It was a big company,” Ms. Rubin said. “It was all over the city, upstate, and then out of the area.” Jack headed the company until he retired, in the 1970s, after bypass surgery. He was in his late 50s.

The Krimskys moved from Brooklyn to Long Island’s south shore, from Far Rockaway to Bayswater to Valley Stream and eventually to Hewlitt. After Dorothy died, Jack, “who was like a lost soul when my mom passed,” moved to Paramus. “I was the baby of the family, and I still had babies, so I was at home, and I said, ‘Daddy, come out here,’” Ms. Rubin said. They built their house to accommodate not only themselves and their two daughters, but also her father.

And there they lived, through almost three decades, through Steven Rubin’s medical career and his eventual early retirement, through Ms. Rubin’s work as his office manager and her retirement, and through covid, through their physical separation from their extended family as covid hit, through Mr. Krimsky’s decline, and then, last month, his death.

Mr. Krimsky was an untutored but talented pianist, Ms. Rubin said. “He never took a lesson in his life, but he played by ear. He would hear a song, play around with it a little bit, and then play it. When he was in middle school, he played at Carnegie Hall. Although he had a perforated ear drum from the Air Corps, he could always tell you if there was a key out of tune.

“Now we have a baby grand piano in our house, his piano, that no one else can play.”

He also had a talent for visual arts, which dovetailed with his construction background — it meant that he could make things. Beautiful things. “He always had an interest in doing stained glass, so when he moved in with us we found a school that taught stained glass and he went there for lessons,” Ms. Rubin said. “In a few weeks he was helping the teacher teach. He made the most amazing stained-glass pieces I have ever seen, giant windows and lamps and fireplace screens. And he was pretty much self-taught.

“He was a kind and warm and friendly and genuine person,” his daughter summed up. “There wasn’t anyone he couldn’t talk to. He was a people person.”

Mr. Krimsky turned 100 on January 17, as the pandemic still raged. His family arranged a drive-through birthday party for him. “We had over 50 cars come by, and he sat on the front porch,” Ms. Rubin said. “People ran out of their cars and dropped off gifts, as if he were a king.

“It was so beautiful. We had a great time. He was out there for hours. It was a Sunday; we rented a tent and had it put up on my outside deck, so the immediate family could all be out there.

“My daughter Whitney, who bakes, make him a cake — a one, a zero, and a zero — and put pieces of sugar on them to make it look like stained glass. It was the best 100th birthday party we could do.”

Then came the funeral.

The family has a family burial plot at Beth Moses Cemetery; over the past half-century, it’s spent about $300,000 there, and many relatives are buried there. Their plot is near the entrance, and visible when you drive in, Ms. Rubin said.

Jack Krimsky is surrounded by some of his children and grandchildren.

Because of covid-era rules, funerals are done at graveside rather than inside.

“When we got there for his scheduled funeral, we could see the plot, and we saw that it was dug up,” she said. “My husband said that it didn’t look like it had been dug down deeply enough. I didn’t want to look at it. I looked away.” So they got to the office, and waited and waited. Nothing unusual yet; “we’d gotten there super-early,” Ms. Rubin said, and funerals always involve waiting.

Many family members had gathered, along with the Rubins’ rabbi, Arthur Weiner of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus / Congregation Beth Tikvah. The hearse, carrying Mr. Krimsky’s body, was there as well. There also was an honor guard to present the U.S. Army’s respects to the family. Everyone waited.

Finally, “our funeral director told us to follow her, that she was going to bring us to the graveside,” Ms. Rubin said. “And then we go and we kind of stop half a block away from the plot. They stop all the cars. We’re all backed up. We’re sitting in the car for a solid 20 minutes, not knowing what’s happening, and then the funeral director asks me to come out. Only me. She didn’t want anyone else. And I said to my husband, ‘You’re coming with me.’

“We walk a little bit away, and she says, ‘I am so sorry. I don’t know how to tell you this. Somebody made a mistake. They dug the grave yesterday — and they put another body in it.’”

It’s a problem that can be fixed — but not immediately, the funeral director said.

Through her shock, Ms. Rubin was vaguely able to hear her talk about “how it’s a major thing to have to disinter a body. They don’t know how long it will take. And I said, ‘You mean we aren’t doing it today? You mean that we don’t go back to my house and sit shiva? Even though there are nine million people coming over? And all that food?’” (Please note, reader, that when people are in shock, small details register and reverberate, as if they stand in for the larger, impossibly horrific truth.)

“And they say no.” No funeral. No shiva. No nothing. “I am in limbo.

“Rabbi Weiner was livid, but trying to keep us calm,” Ms. Rubin said. “He said that in 35 years, he’s never seen this before. The funeral director said she’s never seen it before.

“And then I said, ‘Let’s at least go to my mom’s grave and see her. So we went over. And the tombstone was buried in dirt,” piles of soil and rubble dumped from what was to have been her father’s grave helter-skelter over her mother’s. “We had to clean it off so we could read her name. We all took tissues out of our pockets to clean off the footstone. It looks like it had a crack. So now. On top of everything else, I’m upset that they hurt my mom’s grave.”

At what was to have been Mr. Krimsky’s grave, “there was no grave marker. No name. And a huge stick sticking out of the grave like debris. How did they leave such a disgusting, sloppy mess?

The family plot at Beth Moses Cemetery is clearly marked. The grave on the right is the one with the wrong body in it; it’s only partly filled in.

“So now I’m looking at what they did to my mom, to what they didn’t do for my dad, and the disarray for this poor person buried here. In my wildest dreams, I cannot understand this. It was a family plot. A giant headstone with three names, and six people already buried, with footstones. If there was a family member with that other person, didn’t it cross their mind that this means something?” Or, disturbingly, maybe the other person in her father’s grave was buried entirely alone.

“Everyone left except the immediate family,” Ms. Rubin continued. “We decided we wanted to go back to the office. We kept ringing the intercom, but they didn’t answer it. Steve was ringing it and ringing it and ringing it and banging on the door. The gravediggers took their trucks and they flew away from us at like a million miles an hour.

“And then we started calling, and no one answered. It kept going to voicemail.

“Finally my daughter Simone’s fiancé, David, got through, and my husband spoke to this guy, and he was rude. A woman got on the phone, and my husband said, ‘I need to talk to someone about it,’ and she said ‘I can’t talk to you. You have to call the manager tomorrow.’ It’s 2 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, and there were a million funerals going on, and you knew they were in the office.” Mr. Rubin left his name and number; someone called back the next day and said “We’re working on it. We’ll call you back,” Ms. Rubin reported. “We never heard from them again.”

Her father’s body was put back in the hearse, driven west across Long Island, in typically abysmal traffic, to the funeral home in New Jersey, taken out of the casket, and put back in the refrigerator.

“When we left the cemetery, we had zero idea if this would take days, weeks, whatever to put my dad to rest,” she continued. “When we came back to the house, we were like zombies. Finally, late late on Friday, just before Shabbes, we got a phone call that it could be Monday.” It was. “When we got there, no one from the cemetery ever came out to talk to us.”

She has no idea who the person briefly in her father’s grave was; they put together various bits of information they’d been able to ferret out to learn that it was a woman, whose whole name they don’t know. Her funeral had been arranged through a non-Jewish funeral home in Marine Park in Brooklyn. “Nothing jibes,” Ms. Rubin said; she feels very bad for that nameless, very alone woman.

Mr. Krimsky left a big, tight-knit family. He had three children.

Susan, the oldest, is married to Bert Moskowitz. They have a son, David, who is married to Jacqui, and they have three daughters, Darrien, Jordan, and Delaney. They also have a daughter, Jill, who is married to Steven Van Praagh; they have two daughters, Danah and Shara.

Mr. Krimsky’s middle child, Jeffrey, was married to Joyce, who died of covid a few months ago. He has two sons; Dan, who is married to Rachel and the father of Avi and Ezra, and Mikey, who is married to Cara.

Roni and Steve Rubin have two daughters, Simone, a doctor, and Whitney.

Many of them were unable to go to Mr. Krimsky’s actual funeral; some are college students who were able to reschedule finals once but not twice. Her brother, who lives in Florida, was able to change his arrangements yet again to make his father’s second funeral. “My nephew is an OB/GYN in South Jersey who had to reschedule 40 patients for the first funeral. He couldn’t reschedule them again. He couldn’t come, and he is beside himself. He keeps saying ‘I can’t believe I didn’t go to Poppy’s funeral,’” Ms. Rubin said.

She did say, though, that her father would have taken it in stride. “He would have laughed it off,” she said. “That was his nature.” And at some point, she and her family also will come to terms with it. Still, “there aren’t any other lifecycle events where you deserve as much dignity as you do at a funeral,” Ms. Rubin said. “This is a ceremony that is meant to honor a person, and there really is no room for error.”

The cemetery has no comment.

But the last word wouldn’t be from the cemetery, anyway. It would be from Jack Krimsky’s descendants, who overcome their shock at his funeral with their joy in his life.

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