It took more than two months, but Dorothea Buschell finally made it to a final resting place with her family.

After inexplicably buying a pricey Catholic burial while at a Brooklyn nursing home — even though she already had a paid-for family plot — the 83-year-old Jewish cousin of comedian Elayne Boosler was disinterred from New Jersey and reburied on Long Island Tuesday. 

“In the words of the great philosophers, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’” Boosler wrote in a eulogy read by Rabbi Moses Birnbaum at New Montefiore Cemetery in Suffolk County. “We know you are grateful, Dorothea, to have finally come home to rest with your loving family.”

Boosler, who could not attend the new funeral due to the pandemic, watched from her Southern California home via FaceTime, alternately wiping away tears and wisecracking with the rabbi. 

“Elayne and [cousin] Harriet want you to know how sorry they are that the nursing home let you die horribly of this pandemic, instead of getting you to a hospital where you could have at least passed away more humanely, less agonizingly and not alone,” Birnbaum said. “Or perhaps even lived.”

Comedian Elayne Boosler visited her cousin Dorothea Buschell at Brooklyn’s Hamilton Park Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in August 2018. Credit: Courtesy of Elayne Boosler

Boosler has hired high-profile attorney Lisa Bloom, known for successfully suing former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and briefly representing disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, to investigate the case.

The Allure Group, which operates Hamilton Park Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Bay Ridge, cited resident privacy laws in declining to comment. David Simpson, a spokesperson, added, “Funeral homes, not nursing homes, are responsible for attending to a family’s wishes for after-death arrangements. When no family is present, court-appointed guardians are responsible.”

While Boosler stressed that she and other family members remained active in Buschell’s life, Hamilton Park had petitioned Brooklyn Supreme Court for guardianship in 2015. 

Two years later, David Blau, an employee of New York Guardianship Services, signed a $15,000 pre-need burial document on Buschell’s behalf, charging her estate for a lengthy list of items relating to a Catholic funeral including a mahogany casket, clergy, rosaries and a crucifix.

Neither Blau nor Kehila Chapels, the funeral home that handled Buschell’s original burial, returned calls for comment.

“There is no greater mitzvah [sacred duty] than attending to the needs of the deceased,” Birnbaum said. 

The Move

Buschell’s final journey began early morning at a new section of Forest Green Park Cemetery in Morganville, N.J., 74 miles from her intended family plot.

Rows of freshly dug plots had no gravestones or discernible markings except for small American flags.

A backhoe removed about five feet of earth from the site before a gravedigger jumped into the pit and gingerly poked around with a metal probe called a depth sounder. 

“The casket’s collapsed on top,” he said. 

Dorothea Buschell is reburied in her family’s Suffolk County plot, June 30, 2020. Credit: Virginia Breen/THE CITY

Three other diggers wearing only T-shirts, shorts and no masks hopped in and shoveled, unearthing the disintegrating casket and rigging it so the backhoe could hoist it above ground. The casket crumpled once it landed.

Steven Kleinberg, the funeral director who handled the reburial, donned a hazmat suit and a respirator mask and opened the plastic wrapping to ensure the body inside was correct. 

The muddied coffin contained no Catholic accoutrements. Buschell was wrapped in plastic and a bed sheet. A Jewish burial shroud, called tachrichim, remained folded and sealed in its plastic wrapping instead of adorning the deceased.

“That’s the part that got me,” Boosler later told THE CITY. “That little bag with the shroud not even being unwrapped, but tossed in there like they were throwing away garbage.” 

A Prayer for Dorothea

The gravediggers carefully moved the body to a plain wooden box so it could be driven by Kleinberg across state lines to Long Island. 

“I’m being cremated,” one of the diggers vowed. 

Following the New Montefiore service, Birnbaum asked Boosler if they could say the Kaddish, a prayer said as part of mourning rituals in Judaism, despite lacking the required 10 Jewish adults in attendance.

“In a cemetery, we ask the righteous souls that are hovering above us to join us to make a minyan,” the rabbi said. “So we can say the Kaddish.”

Boosler noted that Buschell had spent 25 years in France and Italy teaching English on American military bases. When she returned to the States, she became a substitute teacher and abstract artist. 

The story of her final journey may help other families avoid a similar fate, Boosler hoped. 

“Dorothea dies and nothing changes,” she said. “She’s still traveling and teaching.”