Cultural Garden Guardians Honored

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Hebrew Cultural Garden guardians Yanowitz, Jones to be honored

Bill Jones, a long time volunteer at Hebrew Cultural Garden in Rockefeller Park in Cleveland, does some cleanup work near the garden's entrance.

Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News.

By Ed Wittenberg

Donna Yanowitz had never been to the Hebrew Cultural Garden at Rockefeller Park in Cleveland before she was asked to chair the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s newly formed HCG committee in 2006.

“I’m a gardener; I love to garden and wasn’t really doing anything at the time,” said Yanowitz, a native of Duluth, Minn., who moved to Greater Cleveland in 1951. “I had just finished a stint as chairman of the board of the Siegal College of Judaic Studies (now the Siegal Lifelong Learning Program at Case Western Reserve University), and I had a lot of time available.”

On the other hand, Bill Jones, a longtime volunteer at the garden and member of the HCG committee, was born in Cleveland and was well aware of the garden’s history before he became formally involved in 2004.

“I thought it was an important part of the Jewish community’s history,” he said. “At one time, there was a significant Jewish presence (in the area of the garden), certainly through the early 1900s, and I thought it was important that there continue to be a Jewish presence there.

“I’m also horticulturally inclined, so it fit.”

Yanowitz, of Beachwood, and Jones, of Cleveland Heights, will both be recognized for their contributions when the Federation holds a private rededication ceremony Aug. 28 at the Hebrew Cultural Garden, 1160 East Blvd. Renovations to the garden are due to be completed by that date.

The garden, which dates to 1926, is one of 30 that make up the Cleveland Cultural Gardens in Rockefeller Park. These gardens – on a strip between Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and East Boulevard – turn 100 years old this year, and the 71st annual One World Day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 28 there is open to the public.

But the Federation’s ceremony for the Hebrew Cultural Garden is a separate event, said Jessica Cohen, managing director of community relations for the Federation.

“We felt it was important to take the opportunity to officially rededicate the garden prior to the centennial celebration festivities,” said Cohen, who has been overseeing a capital renewal project for the HCG. “We also want to thank Donna Yanowitz for her leadership, Bill Jones for his exceptional volunteerism over the years and the donors who have so generously supported the renewal project.”

Donna Yanowitz

The garden is managed by the Federation’s community relations department and the HCG committee and maintained through funding from an endowment fund.

Since 2004, Jones has overseen the maintenance and upkeep of the garden as a volunteer. He said he gave it up last winter because “it just became too much of a hassle, physically and otherwise.”

“He’s been my right-hand man,” said Yanowitz, who at age 92 is no longer able to drive and can’t get to the garden very often. “He’s really wonderful.”

Jones, 77, also spoke highly of Yanowitz and the role she has played in the garden’s resurgence.

“Donna is a modest person, but she stepped up in the community in so many ways,” he said.

Since Jones’ “retirement” from full-time volunteering at the garden, the Federation’s facilities department has taken over those responsibilities, Cohen said.

“But I haven’t suddenly divorced my interest in the garden, so when it’s appropriate I’ll step in to assist Donna in whatever ways she needs help,” said Jones, a member of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike.

Yanowitz, a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike, said she plans to stay involved with the garden as much as she can.

“It may be better to have some younger people take it over,” she said. “But I appreciate everything the volunteers have done over the years, and it was important for the Federation to take a more active role.”

Federation involvement pays dividends

Donna Yanowitz, chair of the Hebrew Cultural Garden committee, said the garden “had gone to rack and ruin” when Paula Fishman – who had discovered in 1997 that it was not being tended to – asked the Jewish Federation of Cleveland to take over its care and maintenance in 2006.

“A handful of people who were very concerned made up my committee,” Yanowitz said.

That was when the planning process for the complete renewal of the garden began, said Jessica Cohen, managing director of community relations for the Federation. About a year ago, the project began to be implemented in earnest in preparation for the centennial celebration of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation, also known as One World Day, Cohen said.

“We spent January through April revisiting the capital plans and developing a fundraising plan,” she said. “In April we received final approval from the Cleveland Landmarks Commission, as well as from the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation executive committee – both required to do work in the garden.”

The Federation hired DERU Landscape Architecture of Cleveland to design the renovation of the garden, and H&M Landscaping Inc. of Newbury Township did the work, which began in June.

The central feature of the garden is a water fountain, surrounded by a hexagonal Magen David, or Star of David, made out of bricks and stones.

“They replaced the Magen David, and the bricks make it stand out as a star,” Yanowitz said.

Plantings around the fountain and at the East Boulevard entrance to the garden were redone, said Bill Jones, a longtime volunteer at the garden. The renovation also included the creation of a new entrance to the garden on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, including a pathway that leads from the street up a hill to the garden.

“The biggest change in someone looking at it would be the grounds,” Jones said. “There’s lots more to do, but this has made a dramatic change.”

Total cost of the renovation is about $250,000, and about $60,000 still needs to be raised, Cohen said.

“It has been a quiet capital campaign, but there was a dedicated effort from the development department of the Federation,” she said. “We hope that about half of what’s left to raise will come from the Holden Gardens Trust, a fund that has dedicated funding to support capital renovations of the Hebrew Cultural Garden.”

This architectural rendering shows the final plans for the renovation of the Hebrew Cultural Garden at Rockefeller Park in Cleveland.

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