Every time you call a customer-service helpline, it costs the company an industry average of $1.09 a minute.
So I figure I’ve saved Har Zion Cemetery $43.60 for services rendered. Plus $17.28 in grass seed.
Let me explain.
Har Zion is located on MacDade Boulevard in Collingdale, behind an Aldi supermarket. The office is usually dark and locked.
When you dial the cemetery, calls go to voicemail. Messages are slow to be returned. Sometimes you’ll see a caretaker pushing tools around the place. But otherwise it’s, ahem, a ghost town.
So frustrated families will Google the words “Har Zion” and “complaint” in the vain hope of finding alternative ways to get help with problems related to loved ones’ graves.
That’s when they find a column I wrote last year about how I took a shovel to Har Zion to finish burying a grandmother whose family was sickened by how her interment was handled.
Cemetery workers had left two sheets of battered plywood atop the woman’s grave, weighted down with cinder blocks and bricks. You could see, through a gap beneath the wood, that the plot was only partially filled (although the casket wasn’t visible). A mound of excavated dirt lay on the graves of the families’ other loved ones.
I tracked down Har Zion owner Robert Feldman, a Miami aviation attorney who manages the cemetery from afar. He told me it was standard operating procedure to allow a grave to “settle” for a few months before topping off and seeding it.
When I visited the plot, I was disgusted by its condition. The grave had been filled in, but the clumpy mound remained. I tried to smooth things out with my shovel.
My handiwork wouldn’t have won any landscaping awards, but it felt good to help a grieving family.
And then I started hearing from other frustrated mourners.
Helene Rosen’s mom, Anne Wise, was 94 when she died on Feb. 3, 2016. She was buried next to her late husband at Har Zion, but 17 months later, her side of the plot was still hard, caked dirt.
“They have yet to replace the grass they dug up,” says Rosen. “It’s so disrespectful.”
For 27 months, Har Zion wouldn’t return Joel Robbins’ calls about resetting the headstone on his parents’ adjoining plots.
“Mom died on Feb. 19, 2015, so they moved the stone to dig Mom’s grave,” he says. “The crew put the stone about 10 feet away, stuck in between two other graves. And there it sits!”
Speaking of headstones, Kim Pollock doesn’t know why her grandparents’ monument, which had been next to her mom’s, has been moved a few feet away, between two other stones, leaving behind a patch of dirt. Another woman, who asks to be anonymous so as not to jeopardize a complaint she has filed against Har Zion with the Pennsylvania Department of State, showed me photos of her parents’ grave site, its stone askew, one side devoid of grass.
“My husband and I are not wealthy people,” she says. “But if I ever hit the lottery, the first thing I’ll do is move my parents to another cemetery.”
Then there are those who contacted Har Zion for basic info about deceased kin. Gloria Pressman, who lives out of state, needed ancestors’ birth and death dates. Arthur Rosenthol needed a cemetery map to find a relative’s plot. No one returned their calls.
I forwarded these complaints to Feldman, who addressed most of them promptly. But why was the media’s intervention needed in the first place?
Feldman says calls were not being forwarded to him reliably by staff. As for maintenance, he recently hired a lawn service to cut Har Zion’s grass twice a month, freeing up his caretakers to reset toppled headstones – over 60 so far.
“This is not a case of my being an absentee owner,” he says. “I am very hands-on.”
I’ve visited a lot of old cemeteries and, to be fair, Har Zion is in better shape than many of them. But that means little to grieving families.
On Wednesday, I brought a bag of grass seed to Har Zion, scattered it over the bare grave of Helene Rosen’s mother, Anne Wise, and watered it down with a bottle of Aquafina. Feldman told me that he himself has seeded the plot four times, but it never takes.
“Grass won’t grow there, for some reason,” he says. “But we’ll keep trying.”
Hey, I tell Feldman, he doesn’t need to tell that to me. He needs to pick up the phone and tell Mrs. Rosen.
My days as his customer-service rep are over.