Honoring Those Who Came Before Us
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Many of Cleveland’s older Jewish cemeteries are located in areas where the Jewish community no longer lives and synagogues no longer exist. Without an organized effort, these cemeteries have fallen into disrepair and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland has stepped in to help. With unanimous Board approval, the 112 year old non-profit organization has launched a Cemetery Preservation Campaign with the goal of raising $3.5 million to honor the deceased.
“The history of our Jewish community is represented in these cemeteries and together we can preserve that history,” said Harley I. Gross, Cemetery Preservation Campaign Chair. “Everyone is invited to contribute to this campaign and perform one of the highest expressions of chesed (loving kindness), as those buried in the cemeteries cannot repay anyone for the kindness shown to them.”
In the Cleveland area, there are approximately 69,000 graves in 16 Jewish cemeteries and 3 general cemeteries with Jewish sections. Many are plagued with overgrown trees and grass, broken or missing fences, and overturned headstones. Historically, congregations and benevolent associations have held primary responsibility for the upkeep of their cemeteries; but, not all have the resources needed to carry out their long term responsibility.
“Our community has stood the test of time since 1839, but many of the organizations which created our network of cemeteries have not. They are long gone but their cemeteries remain,” said Rubin Guttman, immediate past Chair of the Commission on Cemetery Preservation (COCP), a foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland with a mission to ensure the dignified maintenance, sustainability, and perpetuity of Cleveland’s Jewish cemeteries under the Federation’s supervision.
As of this year, the COCP has become responsible for the upkeep of 14,060 graves with jurisdiction of 6 Jewish cemeteries, including: Baxter Cemetery, Chesed Shel Emeth, Fir Street Cemetery, Harvard Cemetery, Lansing Cemetery, Workmen’s Circle section of Lincoln Cemetery, and another west side cemetery is on the verge of being added soon. The COCP engages with new partners on an ongoing basis, evaluating the need to take on oversight of additional Cleveland Jewish cemeteries.
“A number of our older Jewish Cleveland cemeteries have suffered from various degrees of neglect in recent years, and it has become apparent that the Federation needs to play a significant ongoing role in their care and maintenance. We have entered into Agreements to establish this role, have hired a professional expert to implement it, and will now be going out to the community to raise funds to support this effort,” said current Chair of the COCP, David Orlean. “It has been very rewarding to be associated with this process and to see our cemeteries being restored to a dignified condition.”
The improvement process has begun with tree removal, stone resetting, and landscaping thanks to the hire of a full-time Cemetery Manager, Brett Cochran, who works with an oversight committee to design and implement appropriate maintenance plans that ensure ongoing care of the cemeteries under the COCP’s jurisdiction. Funds raised by the Cemetery Preservation Campaign will enable the care of these cemeteries in perpetuity and allow for the addition of other cemeteries as needed.
“It’s a community’s role to ensure that all cemeteries remain dignified, and that individual people are remembered,” said Gross. “It’s a moral responsibility, and it is also a communal responsibility. How we do this is our legacy.”
The community is invited to participate in the mitzvah (good deed) of caring for those who have come before us through a contribution to the Cemetery Preservation Campaign. For more information, please contact Elizabeth Klein at 216-593-2835 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Federation’s website at www.jewishcleveland.org.