A brief history of Hebrew Orthodox Memorial Society (HOMS)
Burial ritual is an important part of Judaism as is charity. The Hebrew word for charity, Tzedakah and for a holy person, Tzadek, springs from the same root word. It is only logical that Jews would create a burial society that would bury deceased indigent Jews without cost to their families. Such a society was created in the late 19th century in Baltimore. Members were solicited and dues were set at five cents per week. A collector was hired. The collector went to Jewish homes and collected five cents each week, keeping one cent as commission and turning in the remaining four cents to the burial society. By the turn of the century, a piece of ground was purchased on Baltimore City’s boundary and a cemetery was established. The first burial took place in 1901. At that time it was thought that dead bodies were the cause of disease and cemeteries were established as far away from the city as possible. Inasmuch as the deceased were buried without cost, grave sites were not sold and a perpetual care fund was not established. Income to operate the Society was obtained from the members’ dues.
It is a tradition in Judaism to visit the dead during the period before and during the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At that time prayers are chanted at the gravesite. In order to raise funds to maintain and operate the cemetery, Society member volunteers came to the cemetery and chanted the prayers for the visitors who gave donations. With these donations and the membership dues, a fund was created and invested in income producing investments. Once each year donations were solicited from the Baltimore community at large. These three sources of income were sufficient to perform the service for which the Society was created, although at times, not without struggle. The flu epidemic in 1917 resulted in many burials. In 1938, the Society became incorporated and was renamed the Hebrew Orthodox Memorial Society. Over the years, relatives of those buried in the cemetery asked to purchase gravesites and additional funds were secured.
By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the number of members began to dwindle considerably as did the number of volunteers who would chant the prayers during the visiting period. Income also dwindled considerably. Fortunately, several young men became involved; men who had extensive business experience. The Society registered with the Federal Government as a religious and charitable entity negating the need to pay income and property taxes. The fund was invested in higher income producing investments instead of bank certificates of deposit. Expenses were reduced wherever possible and over time, eliminated. The paid secretary retired and was not replaced; her duties assumed by an unpaid volunteer. When the resident caretaker left, he was replaced by a maintenance company. The apartment in the entrance was sealed and two outer buildings were demolished. Water, telephone and electricity were cancelled. The only continuing expense was that of the maintenance company. Although the number of burials dwindled considerably, the responsibility to maintain the cemetery did not. The grass needed to be cut, vegetation needed to be trimmed and leaning and fallen monuments had to be repositioned.
For many years, the cemetery was maintained under leadership of Ken, Arnold & Larry Golberg. In 2015, the Golbergs approached the JCA about assuming ownership and responsibility of HOMS. The board met and unanimously approved the acquisition. The JCA has been managing the cemetery since then actively fixing headstones and working to improve security and surveillance.