The alternative for indigent New Yorkers has been burial in Potter's Field, located on one of the city's small islands.
To give the poor Jewish dead dignity, the association arranges for traditional Jewish burial in its cemetery.
Through an aggressive outreach program, the association's services are widely known among private and public social service agencies and Jewish community organizations in New York, said Sandra Wiesel, the association's administrator.
Since its establishment, the association has laid to rest 55,000 Jews. In the past three years, about 400 people — some 50 percent of whom were immigrants from the former Soviet Union — have been buried annually by the association, Wiesel said.
But due to limited funds the graves have remained unmarked and can only be identified by the cemetery map maintained by the association. The new fund-raising campaign — called Leave Your Mark — aims to collect enough donations to erect 1,000 headstones.
Contributors who donate toward the $150 cost of installing a simple headstone will receive certificates of recognition.
If this year's campaign is successful, more funds for the remaining 45,000 headstones will be solicited, Wiesel said.
The association's budget is mainly supported by funds from the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York, individual contributions and local and state government programs.