Screenshot from YouTube.

Teen Faces Indictment for Vandalizing Jewish Cemetery


A teenager has been indicted for vandalizing a Jewish cemetery in New York.

Eric Carbanoro, 18, is being indicted for allegedly being a part of a group that emblazoned anti-Semitic graffiti on Beth Shalom Cemetery in Warwick, NY, which included the words “Heil Hitler” and multiple swastikas, on Oct. 9, 2016.

The indictment also alleges that Carbanoro deleted incriminating images from phones belonging to other people, including a meme that stated “secretly spray paints Jewish cemetery and gets away with it.”

As a result, Carbanoro is being charged with conspiring to commit a hate crime and tampering with evidence.

District Attorney David Hoovler denounced the vandalism in a statement.

“There is no room for this type of hateful desecration of religious property here in Orange County,” said Hoovler. “These anti-Semitic symbols and messages do not reflect the values of the overwhelming majority of Orange County and Warwick residents.”

Carbonaro has yet to be arrested. It is believed that he conspired with two others to commit the hate crime, both of which have yet to be identified. The investigation is still ongoing.

There have been numerous instances of Jewish cemeteries being vandalized in 2017, including a Jewish cemetery in Boston in July and three in a span of 12 days in March.

Expired And Inspired - the Kavod v'Nichum Blog on Jewish End-of-Life Matters

The 15th Annual Kavod v’Nichum Conference by Rabbi Joe Blair


Wow. I have just returned from the Kavod v’Nichum (KVN) Conference, held this year over June 18-20 in San Rafael, California. Other than physically exhausted, I am exhilarated, energized, and enthused. There was so much offered, so many opportunities to learn, to network, to compare notes, and to socialize with others who engage with the holy work we do. It was truly an amazing and wonderful event (just as the other KVN conferences I have attended have been). This one, however, seems to have surpassed others (although I have to admit that perhaps that is due my less-than-perfect memory). 😉

Kavod v'Nichum - Honor & Comfort

Kavod v’Nichum – Honor & Comfort

Who came?

One hundred and forty-seven people gathered to talk about supporting members of their own communities through offering education, training, comfort, honoring the dead, performing rituals and rites, being present, providing final resting places for the dead and places for the living to visit, remember, and honor them. Obviously, this is a self-selected group that share a passion, but all the same, by almost any measure, this was a very special cadre, and I was honored and proud to be among them.

What Did They Talk About?

Conference sessions (summaries of the topics only – many of these topics had several sessions that presented different aspects) included cemetery record keeping; emotional responses to Taharah; possible concerns raised in gender-fluid and transgender situations; cemetery expansion; the journey of the soul and concepts of reincarnation in Judaism; the End of Life Option Act; infection control in Taharah; Green burial; Vidui; extensions to Taharah; cemetery restoration; ways to talk about death; reviving rituals with a feminine focus; using stories and drashot; liturgy and text study; Shmirah; approaches to identify, protect and preserve cemeteries; providing better deaths; the impact of cremation; using animation to educate about death; and models for providing community education.

There were also visits to two different cemeteries, and an intensive presentation on how to start and manage a community Funeral home, as well as discussions on both home Taharah and home funerals.

Gamliel Institute Day of Learning

Students of the Gamliel Institute had the opportunity to stay on for an additional Day of Learning. The three sessions included there were largely text-based, and looked at the figure and legacy of Rabban Gamliel; the Kohen Gadol and Olam Habah in the Zohar; and an examination of pre-1917 Love, Death and Community in Russian/Pale of Settlement Jewry.

And this was only the formal presentations! The informal networking and conversations were incredibly rich and diverse.

Who Spoke?

Presenters, other than the Gamliel Institute Faculty/Staff and students, and the Kavod v’Nichum Board members included: Dr. Patrick Arbore, Deena Aronoff, Shirley Barnett, Dan Doernberg, Samantha Feld, Harley Felstein, Rabbi Stacey Friedman, Rabbi Dr. Rafael Goldstein, Lynn Greenhough, Dr. Dawn Gross, Beth Huppin, Howard jampolsky, Colin Joseph, Dara Kosberg, Rabbi Manachem Landa, Rabbi Michael Lezak, Rev. Rosemary Lloyd, Cantor David Margules, Steve Matles, Charlie Meyers, Ruth Minka, Bill Pechet, Rabbi-Cantor Elana Rosen-Brown, Lori Salberg, Sam Salkin, Rabbi SaraLeya Schley, Jeremy Shuback, Cathy Steirn, Betty Rose Webne, Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, Steven J. Zipperstein, and Dr. Jessica Zitter.

Thanks

I am incredibly grateful to all of them, as well as to the students, staff, and board members who also presented, and who each gave of their time to make this such an amazing and wonderful event. [The full list will be made available in the conference program brochure online at http://www.jewish-funerals.org/2017-chevrah-kadisha-and-jewish-cemetery-conference.] A special shout out to the volunteers in planning and executing the conference program – it was Fabulous!

Recognition Evening Program

One of the evening programs was an opportunity to honor Rabbi Stuart Kelman for his work in founding Kavod v’Nichum, and establishing the Gamliel Institute. We recognized his impact as the Chair and as a board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and his ongoing leadership and direction as the Dean of the Gamliel Institute. He has been an educator par excellence, central in the efforts to reclaim the mitzvot of Taharah and Shmirah, and to re-establish the Chevrah Kadisha as a significant aspect of Jewish life and death across the Jewish world.

As part of this recognition, we were proud to welcome fourteen new graduates of the Gamliel Institute, with the second cohort, bringing the total to twenty-eight at this time. Those awarded the Gamliel Institute Certificate connoting advanced studies in Chevrah Kadisha work include: Deborah Brown, Auria Bernace Gonzalez, Blanca Ruth Hernandez, Gloria Esther “Doris” Rivera, Ingrid Altagracia Mercedes, Rafael Ortiz, Wilfredo Guerrero, Michelle Siegel, Theresa Bates, Isaac Pollak, Sally Shannon, Fred Helms, Rabbi Eva Sax-Bolder, and Zoe Van Raan. Mazal tov to each of them!

They join the first cohort: Kohenet Ellie Barbarash, Jean Berman, Robin Black, Rabbi Joe Blair, Rena Boroditsky, Nancy Dotti, Dan Fendel, Rabbi Me’irah Iliinsky, Rick Light, Rabbi Myrna Matsa Laura Rocco, Edna Stewart, Kerry Swartz, and Vickie Weitzenhofer.

What was missing?  YOU!

I honestly can’t say enough about how excellent it all was. I suppose I could complain about the heat wave that hit while we were there, but even that didn’t dampen spirits or limit how terrific the entire event was.

I have to say that personally, though I loved most of the sessions and the topics presented, it was the people – the comraderie, the warmth, the sense of community among those present – that made this event so very special for me.

If you have been ‘on the fence’ about attending the conference, all I can say is “go!” It is worth it.

Next year, the conference will be in the Washington DC area. We don’t have the specific dates locked in yet, but try to block out time in June and plan to attend now. You will be glad you did.

Rabbi Joe Blair serves two small congregations in the central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Bridgewater College, and serves as webmaster and coordinator for Jewish Values Online. He studied at, and was one of the first group of graduates from the Gamliel Institute. He serves as a staff and board member of Kavod v’Nichum, and as Dean of Administration for the Gamliel Institute. He is the editor of the Kavod v’Nichum blog, Expired and Inspired, which appears on the L.A. Jewish Journal blogs website. He is involved in several Chevrot Kadisha.

Rabbi Joe Blair

Rabbi Joe Blair

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free preview/overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. Contact info@jewish-funerals.org or  j.blair@jewish-funerals.org for information on how to connect to the preview.

There will be an orientation session on Monday, September 4th, 2017. This session will go over use of the online platform and the online course materials system. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent an email link to the Expired And Inspired blog each week by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

 

RECEIVE NOTICES WHEN THIS BLOG IS UPDATED!

Sign up on our Facebook Group page: just search for and LIKE Chevra Kadisha sponsored by Kavod vNichum, or follow our Twitter feed @chevra_kadisha.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

 

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Melanie Steinhardt comforting Becca Richman at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, Feb. 26. Photo by Dominick Reuter/Getty Images.

Poll: 87 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of Republicans say anti-Semitism a ‘serious’ problem


Seventy percent of American voters see anti-Semitism in the country as a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem, up from 49 percent a month ago, according to a new poll.

The responses differed by party identification, with an overwhelming majority of Democrats, 87 percent, seeing anti-Semitism as a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem, and slightly more than half of Republicans, 53 percent, seeing it as such, according to the poll released Thursday.

The survey was was conducted by Quinnipiac University at the beginning of March.

Jewish institutions, including community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices, have been hit with more than 100 bomb threats so far this year, all of them hoaxes. In the past three weeks, Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in Philadelphia,St. Louis, and Rochester, New York.

Respondents were split on President Donald Trump’s response to the bomb threats and vandalism, with 37 percent approving and 38 percent disapproving. Most Republicans, 71 percent, approved of Trump’s response, while most Democrats, 66 percent, disapproved.

The poll also found that 63 percent of American voters think hatred and prejudice has increased since Trump’s election, while two percent say it has decreased and 32 percent say it has stayed the same.

Trump has come under fire for his delayed response to the incidents. Concerning the threats on Jewish establishments, Trump at first deflected questions – and in one instance shouted down a reporter who asked him about it – before calling them “horrible.”

Last month, the president noted the bomb threats and vandalism of cemeteries in his first address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said.

The Kansas City incident occurred after a patron ejected from a bar after hurling racial epithets at two workers from India allegedly returned with a gun and killed one of the men and wounded another.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at the organization’s Never is Now conference in New York City, Nov. 17, 2016. Photo courtesy of the ADL.

ADL offers reward for information about Philadelphia Jewish cemetery vandals


The Anti-Defamation League offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia.

More than 100 gravestones were toppled and damaged at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in the city’s Wissinoming section. The vandalism was discovered Sunday.

The reward money leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals is being provided by the Mizel Family Foundation, according to the ADL.

It is not known who committed the vandalism or if the motive was anti-Semitism.

A Gofundme campaign for the Philadelphia cemetery was launched by a private citizen, Raphael Caroline, 31, in the hours after the vandalism was discovered. It reached its $10,000 goal and beyond in seven hours.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia also is collecting donations for repairs to the cemetery.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey in a tweet called the attack on the cemetery “a despicable act of vandalism — these acts of hate cannot be tolerated.”

The state’s governor, Tom Wolf, in a tweet called the vandalism “a cowardly, disturbing act. We must find those responsible and hold accountable.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said city officials are working to discover who committed the attack.

“My heart breaks for the families who found their loved ones’ headstones toppled,” he said in a statement.  “We are doing all we can to find the perpetrators who desecrated this final resting place, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  Hate is not permissible in Philadelphia. I encourage Philadelphians to stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters and to show them that we are the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”

Area Muslims from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA’s Philadelphia mosque  joined local Jews to help clean up the cemetery.

“They wanted to divide us. We united even more,” tweeted Kashif Chaudhry, a physician and Muslim activist.

“This is America,” read more than one response.

“This Jewish girl from Philly thanks Muslim community of Philly 4 standing w/us,” read another.

A candlelight vigil to support the Jewish community was held on Sunday night.

J.K. Rowling attends the 70th British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) at Royal Albert Hall in London, Feb. 12, 2017. Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images.

Author JK Rowling helps boost Muslim campaign to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery


Donations tripled to a Muslim-supported crowdfunding campaign to repair a vandalized St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery after British author J.K. Rowling offered her support in a tweet.

Rowling, the author of the popular “Harry Potter” series of books, on Wednesday morning in Britain tweeted a link to an article about the campaign and posted “This is such a beautiful thing.”

The tweet has received more than 10,000 retweets and more than 30,000 likes.

As of Wednesday morning in the United States, the campaign by Muslim activists Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi has raised $66,000, far exceeding its $20,000 goal when it was established on Tuesday afternoon.

Between 170 and 200 headstones were discovered on Monday morning to have been toppled by vandals at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis. The attack on the cemetery took place sometime between Friday night and Monday morning.

The organizers of the crowdfunding campaign said any remaining funds after the cemetery is restored will go to fixes for other vandalized Jewish centers.

“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America,” the activists wrote. “We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.”

Eric Greitens speaking at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York, May 7, 2012. Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images.

Jewish governor of Missouri, Muslim activists pitching in to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery


The Jewish governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens, said he will volunteer to help repair a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery where at least 170 gravestones were toppled over the weekend.

Meanwhile, two Muslim activists have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 for repairs. The launchgood drive started by Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi had brought more than $45,000 as of Tuesday evening.

They said any remaining funds after the cemetery is restored will go to fixes for other vandalized Jewish centers.

“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America,” the activists wrote. “We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event”

Greitens in a news release Tuesday cited the concept of “tikkun olam,” or repair of the world, and asked helpers to bring rakes, garbage bags, wash rags and more cleaning supplies.

“My team and I will be there tomorrow, and I’d invite you to join us,” he said.

The governor had previously condemned the vandalism on the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City and called on people to “fight acts of intolerance and hate.”

“Disgusted to hear about the senseless act of desecration at the cemetery in University City. We must fight acts of intolerance and hate,” Greitens wrote in a tweet Monday evening after the vandalism was discovered.

The attack on the cemetery took place sometime between Friday night and Monday morning, when the damage was discovered.

Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery Executive Director Anita Feigenbaum told The New York Times that between 170 and 200 headstones were toppled, with some being broken and damaged.

The headstones are in the cemetery’s oldest section, dating from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, she told the Times.

“I just am quite shocked — it affects so many people, so many families, so many generations,” Feigenbaum told the newspaper. “This cemetery was opened in 1893.”

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Lt. Fredrick Lemons of the University City Police Department declined to classify the vandalism as a hate crime.

“Right now, everything is under investigation,” Lemons said. “We’re looking into all possible leads.” The police are reviewing cemetery surveillance cameras, according to the report.

Greitens, a former Navy SEAL whose military awards include the Bronze Star, was elected the first Jewish governor of Missouri in November.

In a post on Facebook he called the vandalism a “despicable act of what appears to be anti-Semitic vandalism.”

“We do not yet know who is responsible, but we do know this: this vandalism was a cowardly act. And we also know that, together, we can meet cowardice with courage,” he wrote. “Anyone who would seek to divide us through an act of desecration will find instead that they unite us in shared determination. From their pitiful act of ugliness, we can emerge even more powerful in our faith.”

Immediately following the announcement of the vandalism, the Chesed Shel Emeth Society, which owns the cemetery, posted a message on Facebook informing families with relatives buried there that it is  “assessing the locations and damage and will post names that are affected as soon as we are able. Many monuments are facing down and we won’t be able to read the names and see if there is any damage until we lift the stones.”

In an update Tuesday afternoon, the society said a local monument company had begun to replace the monuments on their bases. It said it would try to have a comprehensive list of the toppled monuments posted by Wednesday.

A local church, the All Nations Church, launched an appeal to help repair the damage caused by the vandals. The church said on its website that it would match up to $500 in donations to the cemetery.

“Destruction of Jewish headstones is a painful act of anti-Semitism,” said Nancy Lisker, director of the American Jewish Congress in  St. Louis. “We feel the pain of the families whose grave sites of loved ones were desecrated and look to the authorities to apprehend and bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act.”

Lithuanian mayor dismantles building made from Jewish headstones


The municipality of Vilnius in Lithuania began dismantling a Soviet-era structure made from Jewish headstones.

On Wednesday, Mayor Remigijus Šimašius removed the first stone from the structure housing an electricity and heating generator on Olandų Street, his office said in a statement.

The generator was built by the Soviet authorities of Lithuania between 1965 and 1968, when it was part of the Soviet Union. The headstones had been removed from a Jewish cemetery.

 

“After 26 years as an independent country it is now the time to remove these stones, which are a clear mark of disrespect to our Jewish community,” Šimašius said. “The stones will be removed from the generator and moved to a memorial, which will be built on Olandų Street with the cooperation of Vilnius’ Jewish community.”

The Vilnius municipality also confirmed that the smaller fragments of the gravestones will be reburied in the cemetery. The headstones are to be moved to a memorial made from marble stones that is to be finished this fall.

Last year, Šimašius met with Faina Kulansky, the head of the city’s Jewish community, and Cultural Heritage director Diana Varnaite to discuss dismantling structures built from Jewish gravestones in Vilnius during the Soviet period as a mark of respect to the city’s Jewish history.

The municipality is also consulting with the owner of the generator, energy supplier Vilniaus Energija, in order to find a solution on how to replace it.

The building is expected to be fully dismantled by August.

Last year, Lithuania’s then-chief rabbi urged the country’s Evangelical Reformed Church to remove Jewish headstones being used as stairs to a Vilnius church.

Rabbi Chaim Burshtein’s call concerned a 30-foot-long staircase made out of Jewish headstones that leads to the main entrance of the church’s largest building in the Lithuanian capital, on Pylimo Street. The headstones also were installed when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union.

“We regret the deplorable state and destruction of the last remnants of the memory of Lithuanian Jewry,” Burshtein told JTA.

Lithuania, he added, “has many places built out of Jewish headstones. I think the authorities and the Jewish community need to perform thorough research and correct at least this historic wrong.”

More than 100 headstones toppled at Philadelphia Jewish cemetery


A historic Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was vandalized, with 124 of its headstones knocked over.

The caretaker of Adath Jeshurun Cemetery discovered the toppled tombstones Thursday morning, NBC Philadelphia reported.

Johnny Gibson, who has worked at the 12-acre, 160-year-old cemetery for 44 years, said the vandals did not leave any markings or graffiti.

There are only a few new burials annually at the cemetery, which is in the northeastern neighborhood of Frankford and has not been vandalized in decades, according to Gibson.

“I don’t know who would do it,” he told NBC Philadelphia. “Were the people on drugs? Were they drunk? I don’t know. But you wouldn’t be in your right mind, I don’t think, to do something like this.”

 

 

Hillside introduces eco-friendly burial option


As the gates opened recently to Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, the famed Jewish cemetery next to the 405 Freeway as renowned for its verdant lawns as its celebrity occupants, there appeared in almost every direction something sharply out of character: brown, withered lawns.

Was this a consequence of California’s drought? 

“Once a year we de-thatch,” Paul Goldstein, Hillside’s general manager, explained as he led a golf cart tour of the cemetery’s 45 usually very green, grassy acres. “In order to keep it looking as good as it does throughout the rest of year, we scalp it down to the very bottom once a year. We don’t like to do it, because then it looks like this, but the families have gotten used to it.” 

The burnt caramel lawns stood in stark contrast — literally and figuratively — to Hillside’s latest addition, and the reason for the day’s visit: a tour of the brand-new eco-friendly “green” burial section, aptly called Gan Eden, Hebrew for “Garden of Eden.” 

Located on the southeastern side of the cemetery, just north of Centinela Avenue, Gan Eden includes 110 burial plots offering vault-free, concrete-free, casket-free burial. It is the cemetery’s first strategic effort to conserve energy and eliminate the use of embalming toxins. With this new venture, Hillside, owned and operated by the reform congregation Temple Israel of Hollywood, has become the first cemetery in Los Angeles (and certainly the first Jewish cemetery) to offer a burial option certified by the Green Burial Council (GBC), a homespun advocacy organization that sets environmentally sustainable standards for funeral homes, cemeteries and mortuaries. 

The idea was first hatched three years ago. “We were seeing the trend of eco-friendliness, and we have a segment of the community in L.A. that is very interested in that,” Goldstein said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on trying to adapt to what the community is asking for — we’re not here to tell people what they need to do; we’re here to give them options to do what they want to do.”

The main difference between Gan Eden and the rest of Hillside — and, really, most American cemeteries — is the absence of concrete vaults. Those are the giant concrete slabs implanted into the ground to keep the soil level over time, and into which coffins are inserted. Their use is de rigueur in what is often called the “death-care industry.” 

“We’re forcing people into boxes within boxes and that just shouldn’t be the case,” Joe Sehee, founder of the GBC, said. Sehee estimates that the industry-wide practice is responsible for putting about 1.5 million tons of concrete into the earth. “If you were to take a look at what a cemetery looks like underneath [the surface], it would look like a parking lot,” he said. To make matters worse, Sehee argued, the manufacturing and transport involved in getting the vaults to their destinations and then into the ground produces enormous amounts of carbon emissions. 

Gan Eden will have none of that. Plus, more prohibitions: No embalming with toxic chemicals (proven to increase the risk of cancer in those who prepare bodies for burial); no energy-intensive cremation (a forbidden practice for Jews anyway) and no metal caskets. Instead, Gan Eden will offer various options for shroud-only burial, including silk, hand-woven shrouds and an array of fragrant natural washes such as neroli/orange blossom or lavender/rue for use during taharah burial preparation rituals. 

It all adds up to a happy twist of fate: Hillside’s efforts at going green have actually turned Gan Eden into one of L.A.’s most authentic options for traditional Jewish burial. 

“When it comes down to it, Jewish burial is green burial,” Hillside’s manager, Goldstein said. Staring out at the one-eighth-of-an-acre sliver of land that is now Gan Eden, Goldstein marveled that it is now the only place of its kind in all of California. 

Since they were made available last July, 13 plots have been sold. 

Cipra Nemeth and her husband, Scott (who requested his last name be omitted), were among the first to purchase plots in Gan Eden. As they neared 60, both decided it was time to plan for the future. When they saw an ad in the pages of the Journal for Hillside’s green burial, they arranged to take a tour.

“Growing up in England, when a person is buried, they go into a plain pine box straight into the ground,” Nemeth said. “The idea of being surrounded by concrete is a) not my culture, and b) disgusting; and to both of us, so not Jewish.”

Nemeth said she was both surprised and relieved to discover an option that met their religious needs; the green aspect was merely a happy side effect: “We were seeking traditional burial,” she admitted, “but it’s nice that it’s also eco [-friendly]. For example, we have solar panels on our roof; we drive hybrid cars, my husband has a [Nissan] Leaf. We try to be eco-conscious, so it’s nice that it piggy-backs onto that.”

So far, the option does not come cheap. Commensurate with the rest of the park’s pricing, a single plot in Hillside’s Gan Eden costs approximately $43,000; a double plot is slightly higher, at $52,500. Yet those who can afford the Westside resting-place real estate say it is well worth the chance to be buried in a way that honors both their religious commitments and God’s creation.

Orthodox Rabbi Elazar Muskin, who leads Young Israel of Century City, pointed out that concrete vaults are not actually “halachically problematic.” He cited an opinion from 20th-century Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, which determined concrete is pulverized earth, rendering the vault “not a big problem.”

“It’s ironic,” Muskin added, “that what the halachah has said for thousands of years is now coming back via the green movement.”

But what of the harm it causes?

“I would certainly prefer that they don’t have vaults,” Muskin said. 

“That’s what they do in Eretz Yisra’el.” But, he said, “There is no halachic impediment. These questions were resolved years and years and years ago. These are not modern questions.” 

On the other hand, some less observant Jews believe the spirit of Jewish law does not condone earth-harming practices, like the use of concrete. 

“The thing that really pisses me off is the concrete vault,” Scott said. “Most people think [it] is for sanitary reasons, but it’s actually for keeping the ground flat. It’s all about, you know, having a pretty cemetery. So you’re gonna put somebody’s body in [a concrete vault] and keep it from returning to the earth for 150 to 200 years so that the grass looks pretty? It’s absolutely insane.”

Hillside, of course, has always prided itself on its aesthetically spectacular campus. Even with the brown grass on the day of this visit, acre after acre was covered with soaring trees spilling colors — lemon, tangerine, red and raspberry — strewn across the lawn. Near the top of Hillside’s property is its most exclusive Garden of Solomon, a luscious hilltop space built in 2008 that features cascading fountains, swirling garden pathways and secluded family estates modeled after Roman porticos. One fountain-side estate with a gated entry and room for 12 family burial plots sells for nearly $1.5 million. 

Goldstein admits Hillside is deeply invested — philosophically and financially — in its own beauty. “Our level of landscaping and maintenance is above most, and we’re known for color. Every quarter we change out our color so there are new colors and fresh plantings. We really invest the money people spend here back into the park, and the people we serve truly appreciate how we maintain it.” 

But in drought-conscious California, this approach may need revision. “Think about the amount of carbon associated with just the watering and mowing,” GBC’s Sehee said. Now, concomitant with its new green endeavor, Hillside is attempting to find the balance for the first time between environmental conscientiousness and luxury. 

Gan Eden itself hardly looks like a desert landscape. The space is still lushly landscaped with three different species of grasses, native and non-native plants ,and drought-resistant shrubs that suggest meticulous design over natural foliage. Park designer Kurt Buxton, managing principal at ValleyCrest Design Group, based in Orange County, explained that serious efforts were made to create the most naturalistic place possible. For example, only native or “native-compatible” foliage (meaning with similar water needs) were planted in Gan Eden. More challenging than Hillside’s aesthetic demands, Buxton said, the firm was most constrained by the need for resilient landscaping that could withstand the regular digging up and dumping necessitated by burials. 

“Grasses are something that you can basically dig up, set aside, and then put back,” Buxton explained, “and they will continue to grow and thrive and do what they do. As opposed to native shrubs, which, if you dug them up, nine times out of 10, it’s dead.” Ultimately, the firm decided, “Let’s do this as more of an artistic series rather than try to replicate nature.” 

The result is an overall effect of loveliness. Strolling through the space, with its striving little saplings — the Pacific madrones and Western redbuds reaching for the sun, the willowy deer grass swaying in the breeze — evokes the feeling of walking through a manicured park. Because no one is yet buried here, there is a careful arrangement of Hickory creek granite boulders peppering the space, which will eventually serve as engraved headstones. And although the prohibitions on embalming and cremation are strict, wood-only casket burial is permitted. In the absence of vaults, however, the ground will eventually sink, so Hillside has agreed with patrons of Gan Eden that it will maintain an aesthetic releveling of the grounds over time. And, because bodies are going straight into the earth, patrons are required to sign a special policy acknowledging that bodies can never be disinterred or moved. 

The “green” burial room. Photo by Erin Felsen

For their effort, Gan Eden was certified by the GBC as a hybrid burial ground, the first of three levels of green burial. The only other GBC-certified cemetery in California is in Joshua Tree. According to Sehee, the various levels of certification are designed around the GBC’s four environmental aims: reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, conservation of resources, and ideally, long-term land and habitat preservation.

“Our mission is to deindustrialize the industry,” Sehee said. A former Jesuit minister, Sehee believes it is incumbent upon religious leaders and communities to lead the change. He acknowledged it is an uphill battle, primarily because classic burial techniques such as the use of caskets, vaults and embalming chemicals contribute to inflated costs that earn huge revenues for the burial industry. Going green means ending some long-established routines that, in the long run, could potentially make green burial cheaper than traditional burial — in materials, though not the Westside real estate. 

“We’re talking about climate change here,” Sehee said emphatically. “This is an ethical issue, if you believe, as I do, that climate change has enormous consequences for us and that we need to do something about it right now.”   

Jewish cemetery in northern Hungary vandalized


Gravestones were vandalized in a Jewish cemetery in northern Hungary.

Up to 20 gravestones, including two crypts, were vandalized over the weekend in Gyongyos, the MTI-Hungarian News Agency Corp. reported Sunday, citing Peter Weisz, the leader of the local Jewish community. Tombstones were toppled and smashed, and human remains were removed from the crypts, according to reports.

The fence around the cemetery also was vandalized, Weisz told the Hungarian media.

On Sunday, one of the city’s deputy mayors visited the site and offered the city’s help to repair the damage, as did the Catholic Church, according to MTI.

The cemetery was similarly damaged in 2013.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary called the attack a “barbaric act.”

The Jewish community of Gyongyos is comprised of about 80 people in a total city population of about 30,000.

Eden Memorial Park faces second suit


Jewish cemetery Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills is facing a new, multimillion-dollar lawsuit related to allegations that it mishandled burial vaults, threw disrupted human remains into a pile on cemetery grounds and concealed potentially damaging information from its existing and potential customers. 

A civil suit filed Feb. 19 in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of more than 50 people accuses Eden and its parent company, Service Corporation International (SCI), of inflicting emotional distress, negligence, interfering with dead bodies and violating the rights of families over their deceased relatives.

This new suit comes just a year after SCI agreed to pay about $80 million to settle a 25,000-person class action lawsuit alleging similar grievances. Many of the plaintiffs in this most recent lawsuit were not eligible to participate in the original class action suit, which only covered people affected between February 1985 and September 2009. Gary Praglin, an attorney with Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack, the firm representing the plaintiffs, explained that this second suit includes plaintiffs affected both before and after that time frame, as well as people affected during those years who opted out of the class action.

Steven H. Gurnee, a lawyer for SCI, said he believes those plaintiffs whose complaints fall within the time period of the previous class action suit are subject to that settlement, and that their claims will be barred from this second suit. If that were to occur, only 13 plaintiffs would remain in the current case, he said. 

The most recent suit claims that plots at Eden are so close together that groundskeepers have difficulty digging new graves without damaging the protective vaults of the graves on either side. The suit alleges that the cemetery purposely plotted graves 1.5 to 3 inches apart to maximize profits.

Although not commenting on the Eden case in particular, Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for California’s Department of Consumer Affairs, told the Journal that some overlap is natural. 

“You may find a vault or a coffin where you were digging that shouldn’t be there. A lot of times — in California, anyway — that is the result of seismic activity. When there are earthquakes, things tend to shift around a little bit. We’ve seen that at other places,” Heimerich said. 

When this occurs, cemeteries often will move the shifted grave back to its intended location, he said, though Heimerich admitted he is not knowledgeable on current best business practices.  

The suit goes further, however.

“Even more shocking, current and former groundskeepers at the cemetery have admitted that breaking burial vaults will often cause human remains to spill out of the broken vaults,” notes the complaint, citing sworn testimony from cemetery employees. “In such situations, the groundskeepers were instructed by their supervisors to throw away the bones and other remains in the cemetery dump located on the cemetery premises. According to the evidence, this has occurred on likely thousands of occasions.”

Gurnee denied that any such thing has occurred. 

“There is no merit to these claims,” he told the Journal. “There has never been evidence discovered that people were thrown out in bone piles, and there has never been evidence that people were instructed to break vaults. Not one misplaced bone has been found. There were two former disgruntled employees, and we think they have been discredited.” 

The suit further alleges that family members who purchased plots in the cemetery after the time SCI became aware of the negligent burial practices were not informed of the potential for harm. 

“Defendants further instructed the groundskeepers and their supervisors not to tell anyone outside of the cemetery about these problems, and threatened retaliation if they did so,” asserts the complaint. 

Jean Bergman, a resident of Los Angeles County and one of the plaintiffs, claims in the suit that she and her husband — he was buried in the cemetery in 2011 — were not informed of the risks prior to purchasing plots for themselves in 1990. 

“[Bergman’s husband] is buried in a section of the cemetery where there have been a number of broken and damaged protective vaults as well as disturbances of graves, all of which have scarred and tainted the hallowed ground upon which the Plaintiff’s loved one has been buried since burial, and where the Plaintiff similarly intended to be buried,” the complaint states. “Ms. Bergman and her husband would never have purchased property, funeral services and burial services from Defendants had this information been disclosed.”

Eden has an active cemetery license and has never been subject to disciplinary action, Heimerich said. The cemetery received a citation in 2002 for failing to submit a legal document on time, but that was not operational and is not uncommon in the industry, he explained.

Calif. Jewish cemetery accused of mishandling remains is sued a second time


A Jewish cemetery accused of disturbing dead people’s remains is being sued for the second time.

Several dozen relatives of people buried at Eden Memorial Park Cemetery in Mission Hills, Calif., filed a complaint Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging mass disturbances of their loved ones’ graves.

About 40,000 people are buried in the 72-acre cemetery, including comedians Groucho Marx and Lenny Bruce.

The allegations include interference with dead bodies and with the right to dispose of remains, intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud, the local CBS affiliate reported.

The cemetery’s employees have testified that every grave at Eden Memorial Park is currently at risk of being disturbed and its protective vault damaged, the lawsuit said, according to CBS.

Eden Memorial Park is owned and operated by SCI California, a subsidiary of the Texas-based Service Corporation International (SCI), the  largest operator of cemeteries and funeral services in the United States.

Company officials “have not seen the lawsuit and therefore cannot comment on it,” SCI spokeswoman Jessica McDunn said in a statement.

In March 2014, the cemetery  agreed to a settlement worth about $80.5 million in a class-action lawsuit involving 25,000 claimants.

The lawsuit claimed that Eden Memorial Park, which is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the United States, instructed groundskeepers to “secretly break concrete vaults with a backhoe and remove, dump and/or discard the human remains, including human skulls, to make room for new interments.” The alleged incidents began as early as 1985.

British Jewish cemetery is vandalized


Gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in England were painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti, and some were toppled.

The vandalism in Manchester was discovered Monday; it is believed the attack occurred on Sunday or early Monday. A similar attack occurred earlier this month, according to the Manchester Evening News.

Inspector Mike Reid of the Greater Manchester Police told the newspaper that the incident is being treated as a hate crime and comes with stiffer punishments when the vandals are caught.

“The vandalism of a gravestone is, in itself, a sickening act, but to violate the memory of those resting in the cemetery still further by daubing racial slurs on the graves is truly repulsive,” Reid said.

Extra security patrols have been added in the area, according to police.

Spanish city making ancient Jewish cemetery accessible to disabled


A Spanish municipality plans to make one of the country’s largest Jewish cemeteries accessible to disabled people.

Work on the accessibility project began Wednesday at the Jewish cemetery of Lucena in the autonomous province of Cordoba in Spain’s south, Europa Press reported.

The project,  first announced earlier this year at a tourism fair in Madrid, “aims to guarantee mobility to anyone all over the area of the Jewish Necropolis of Lucena,” the city said in a statement.

The necropolis is the largest Jewish cemetery ever excavated in Spain, and it contains 346 catalogued graves, many of them centuries old, according to Europa Press.

The Marrero Architects agency, which designed the accessibility plan for the city, is supervising the construction of a network of wooden paths to be suspended over the graves in a grid. “Construction is undertaken with consideration to the dignity of the dead,”  the city said.

The suspended wooden paths are to be made accessible from a specially designated parking area for people with disabilities, the city said.

The project, supervised by Lucena’s tourism department, is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 18.

The cemetery was discovered in 2006 during construction of Lucena’s southern ring road, according to the office of the Red de Juderias, a network of approximately 20 Spanish cities containing Jewish heritage sites.

The remains pointed to a late medieval period between the years 1000 and 1050 CE, the heyday of Jewish presence in Lucena. One of the oldest gravestones uncovered at the cemetery features Hebrew lettering and is dated to somewhere between the eighth and ninth centuries CE.

 

Polish home, about to be razed, found to have used Jewish gravestones


Seven Jewish gravestones were discovered to have been used in the construction of a home in Poland.

The gravestones were used to build the ceiling of the basement of a home in Golina, TV Konin reported.

It is believed that the headstones came from the destroyed Jewish cemetery in the town. No gravestones remain in the cemetery, according to the report.

The disused home, which was about to be destroyed, was constructed during or after World War II.

The gravestones, which are etched in Hebrew and in good condition, were discovered late last month by local historian Krzysztof Grochowski, who had decided to photograph the building before it was torn down, according to the Virtual Shtetl website. The stones became visible when plasterwork covering the ceiling was removed.

The headstones will be included in a museum exhibit or be used to create a memorial at the site of the former Golina cemetery, the local monuments preservation office told the television station.

Stars of David ripped from Jewish tombstones in Milan


More than a dozen tombstones at the Jewish section of Milan's main cemetery were vandalized.

Vandals over the weekend tore off Stars of David decorating some 13 tombstones. Police in the northern Italian city are investigating.

The Milan Jewish community spokesman said it was too soon to tell whether anti-Semitism or “simple theft” was behind the vandalism. Thieves are known to steal metal decorative elements from cemeteries to melt down or sell as scrap.

Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia said he “forcefully condemned” the vandalism.

“For my part, I express solidarity to the families and to the entire Jewish community,” he said in a statement. “Every act of violence, every act of lack of respect, toward whatever religion or community, is a stain that must find the unanimous condemnation of the entire city.”

Ukrainian city agrees to stop using Jewish headstones as pavement


The city of Lviv in Ukraine agreed to remove Jewish headstones currently used as pavement.

The grave markers, from cemeteries destroyed by the Nazis during their occupation of Ukraine in the 1940s, will be moved to the only cemetery that was not destroyed during the Holocaust, according to Sprirt24, a Netherlands-based news agency.

The Soviet Red Army, which moved in on the heels of the retreating Nazi army, used the headstones as pavement, according to Meylakh Sheykhet, Ukraine’s representative in the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union, who has lobbied for the headstones' removal for years.

He told Spririt24 that the local market was built by the Soviet authorities in 1947 from Jewish headstones, which were placed horizontally and covered with asphalt.

Viktor Zaharchuk, a local resident, showed the Spirit24 film crew some headstones with Hebrew writings that were directly placed on the ground as pavement.

The city was considering several designs for a monument at Lviv’s the only remaining Jewish cemetery, Spirit24 reported, though it is unclear whether that monument would incorporate the headstones after they are removed.

Alleged vandals charged in New Zealand Jewish cemetery attack


Three men were charged in a New Zealand court with damaging more than 20 Jewish gravestones at a historic cemetery in Auckland.

The suspects, aged 19 to 23, were charged Tuesday in Auckland District Court with willful damage of the graves, some of which date back to the 1880s. Their bail was conditioned on not associating with each other or visiting a Jewish cemetery, synagogue or school. They were ordered to reappear in court next month.

One of the suspects, Nathan Symington, accused police of a “witch hunt” and said that although he was a “small-time criminal,” he was no racist and he'd fight the charge “to the bitter end.” The names of the other two were suppressed by the court.

The vandalism last week included spray-painting swastikas and the number 88, code for “Heil Hitler,” as well as graffiti including “F*** Israel.” The charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. 

The attack drew a chorus of condemnation from Jewish officials, Israel’s ambassador, interfaith leaders and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, whose mother escaped Nazism by fleeing Austria on the eve of the Holocaust. 

Jewish cemetery in Poland is vandalized


Polish police are investigating the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in northeastern Poland.

Monika Krawczyk, the CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, said vandals spray-painted swastikas and anti-Semitic images and slogans on graves, a Holocaust memorial and the entrance to the Jewish cemetery in Wysokie Mazowieckie near Bialystok on Sunday night.

One of the slogans read “Here is Poland—not Israel,” which, according to Krawczyk, is a slogan used by Polish neo-Nazi groups. No Jews live in Wysokie.

The cemetery, which was devastated in World War II, was restored in 2006 and protected by a fence. It is maintained by the foundation.

Krawczyk said there were several anti-Semitic vandal attacks on Jewish sites in northeastern Poland in 2011. But, she said, “We had not seen an anti-Semitic attack on such a scale this year.”

Jewish cemetery in Turkey vandalized


Vandals smashed several headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Istanbul.

The damage to the eight headstones and the periphery of the cemetery was discovered on Tuesday, the last day of Passover, in the Jewish cemetery in Beyoglu, Istanbul.

Police said they would view security tapes from around the cemetery in an attempt to identify the vandals.

About 20,000 Jews live in Turkey, with about 18,000 in Istanbul, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. There are 16 synagogues in Istanbul.

Jewish cemetery in France vandalized


Graves were desecrated in a small Jewish cemetery in northeastern France.

Some 49 large, limestone tombstones were found knocked over and broken last Saturday in a cemetery not far from the German border. No written messages were found at the scene. The 19th century cemetery in the town of Bar-le-Duc, in the Lorraine region, contains 126 graves.

Several Jewish and Muslim cemeteries have been desecrated in the past year around the northeastern French region.

Police believe the large stones could not have been moved by a single individual. The local state prosecutor opened an investigation, the AFP news service reported.

The French National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism condemned the crime.

Barbados’ Nidhe Israel: Torah on a tropical isle


When I tell people that we are members of Congregation Nidhe Israel, the Jewish community in Barbados, I get the most incredulous stares.

Barbados is, of course, well known as a “sun, sand and sea” island in the Caribbean, but it has many more attractions than these. Jewish visitors, in particular, are drawn to downtown Bridgetown, the island’s capital city, to visit the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

Unlike most Caribbean islands, Barbados is more than a mere resort. It is a parliamentary democracy patterned on the British Westminster system. While it was “discovered” and named by the Portuguese, it was settled by the British in 1625 and remained a Crown colony until Nov. 30, 1966, when it became an independent member of the British Commonwealth, a status similar to that of Canada. Today, its principal industry is tourism, although it also has a vibrant industrial sector, particularly in the area of information technology, due largely to its high education standards.

Barbados is the easternmost island in the Caribbean, some 1,600 miles from Miami. It is pear-shaped, just 21 miles long and 14 miles or, as it said in one of its ads, “a smile wide.” English is the primary language among 300,000 of the warmest, most welcoming people we have found anywhere.

The island receives close to 1 million visitors annually, about half of whom arrive by cruise ship and spend just a few hours there. Of the rest, about 50 percent are British and Irish. Americans and Canadians make up the majority of the rest, although there is a goodly smattering of Continental Europeans and residents of neighboring Caribbean islands.

Accommodations in Barbados run the gamut from super-luxurious resort hotels to modest bed and breakfasts, and there are also a vast number of villas and condominiums available for long- and short-term rental. Possibly the best known of the hotels is Sandy Lane with daily rates starting at more than $1,000 per day. Other leading hotels include the intimate 40-suite Cobblers Cove, Treasure Beach, which has a reputation for attracting famous writers, and the ubiquitous Hilton, with extensive facilities for meetings and conventions.

In addition to every imaginable water sport, the island offers several world-class golf courses, tennis, polo, horseback riding, hiking trails and biking, as well as the national passion, cricket. In fact, its brand new, state-of-the-art stadium hosted the 2007 Cricket World Cup finals.

Barbados has a wealth of historic attractions, including the recently renovated plantation great house, St. Nicholas Abbey, built in 1650 and one of only three Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere (a second, Drax Hall, is also in Barbados; the third is in South Carolina). For Jewish visitors, however, the Bridgetown Synagogue and the surrounding cemetery is of supreme interest.

Jews first arrived in Barbados in the 1654 as refugees from the Inquisition in Brazil.

They introduced sugar to the island, and their community soon grew and prospered. Their first synagogue was destroyed by a hurricane in 1831, and a new synagogue was subsequently built on the same site. Due to intermarriage, a devastating hurricane and emigration, the original Sephardic community dwindled and had died out by 1929, after which the synagogue building was sold and used for a variety of purposes, lastly as a warehouse.

Jews began to arrive in Barbados once again as the situation in Europe deteriorated prior to World War II. The first of today’s Ashkenazic community to arrive was Moses Altman, who came from Poland in 1931. He was followed by his son, Henry, who today, at age 94, is the senior member of the island’s small but influential Jewish community of some 30 families numbering more than 100 permanent residents. They built their first synagogue and community center, Shaare Tzedek, in a residential neighborhood. That building, which is air-conditioned and has a kitchen, continues to be used during the warmer summer months for Shabbat services and throughout the year for holiday celebrations.

When it became known in 1983 that the abandoned synagogue in Bridgetown was to be demolished, Henry’s son, Paul, who was born in Barbados and is one of the island’s most prominent businessmen, approached then-Prime Minister Tom Adams and persuaded him to allow the Jewish community to restore the building and consecrate it once again as a synagogue.

After a major fundraising drive and with the assistance of architects and historians from England, the Bridgetown Synagogue was restored to its former glory. Friday night services, conducted by local lay leaders, are held there throughout the winter months. During major holidays they attract as many as 100 worshippers from the world over. The synagogue is patterned after the famous Bevis Marks Sephardic synagogue in London, with a magnificent ark, a reader’s table in the center and superb reproductions of the exquisite chandeliers and locally crafted mahogany benches. The synagogue’s Tablets of the Law and a large wall clock are originals.

The surrounding cemetery contains the graves of many of the original Jewish settlers, with inscriptions in both Hebrew and Ladino. An adjoining historic building is currently being renovated and will be used as a museum highlighting the history of the Jews in Barbados.

In the early 1990s, Barbados’ government issued a set of postage stamps to commemorate the re-dedication of the synagogue, and in 2004 it issued a commemorative $100 gold coin to mark the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish community in Barbados.

Of the many tourists we have met there, Ben Omessi, a recent visitor from Northridge, summed up the reactions typical of most describing the Bridgetown Synagogue, calling it “yofi m’od.”

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