It all started about two years ago, after my family and I moved to the Greenspring section of town. We started davening at Agudah of Greenspring, and Rav Mordechai Shuchatowitz and his rebbetzin kindly invited us to their home for Shabbos lunch. Knowing that I am a kohen, the rav mentioned during the course of the seuda that it is not advisable for kohanim to drive down Old Court Road near the Druid Ridge Cemetery. When the rav explained there are Jews buried there and the overhang of the trees inside the cemetery fence creates a canopy – an extension of the cemetery – over the street, we were shocked. From the many Christian symbols on the tombstones that are visible when driving by, I had been sure it was a non-Jewish cemetery. Little did I know that it is a nondenominational cemetery, with a Jewish funeral taking place there about once every two weeks!
If you are a kohen, this problem makes it difficult to get to the Reisterstown Road/Old Court area without having to go through Reisterstown Road traffic. For those of you who are not kohanim, you may be thinking, What does this have to do with me? Great question! This is Baltimore, remember, one of the carpool capitals of the frum world. If your son-in-law, for example, is a kohen, that would mean your grandchildren, whom you might drive to T.A. or T.I., are kohanim. For those T.A. students who take the bus, this is also a concern, since its route passes Druid Ridge Cemetery.
Long story short, I called STAR-K Kosher Certification and spoke with Rav Mordechai Frankel, a fellow kohen, who started researching the topic. In addition, I spoke with STAR-K Kashrus Administrator Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, who also davens at Agudah of Greenspring, who mentioned that Rav Moshe Heinemann said that not only was the stretch of Old Court Road by Giant supermarket problematic, but also the part of Old Court Road across from the Bank of America. When I questioned why, since it is far from the cemetery, he replied that since the trees are densely situated from the cemetery all the way to the bank, the leaves overlap from tree to tree, bringing the tuma all the way to the corner of Old Court Road and Sudbrook! That means that one cannot even make a right turn on Old Court at Sudbrook to continue on Old Court Road, since a tree extended over the right turning lane, which was connected to the trees of the cemetery.
But it even got better! One would think that you could go straight and continue on Sudbrook, rather than making the right turn to Old Court Road. However, the trees were so big that the branches extended over to just about the third driving lane. This meant one could not turn into the stretch of Old Court Road which continues as Sudbrook at all.
The bottom line, halachically, I found out, is that sending my sons on the T.A. school bus was “not mutar and not assur,” since it was a machlokes. Some rabbanim in town held it was permitted, while others held it was an issue. Not knowing what to do about this whole mess – especially since my wife and I had opted to have our sons in T.A. use the school bus transportation – I emailed then-Councilman-elect Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer to ask him what could be done about it. He suggested that I write a letter to Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, which he would forward to her. He also spoke with Druid Ridge Cemetery to see what it could do. Rav Yaakov Hopfer, who reassured me that things were being worked on, also helped with the resolution.
In November and December, thanks to the hard work of Councilman Schleifer, the major job of cutting the several branches off all those huge trees along Old Court Road was accomplished. As you drive down that stretch of Old Court Road, take note of the freshly trimmed trees along the way.
On behalf of the kohanim and the entire Baltimore community, my family would like to express our deepest appreciation to Councilman Schleifer, Councilwoman Almond, and Druid Ridge Cemetery for doing all they did to make this happen.
We live in a generation that makes us distant from holiness and purity. May this great act of adding purity to our midst bring holiness to the whole community, and may all kohanim merit to do the avoda in the third and final Beis Hamikdash, speedily in our days!