October 27, 2022

Treasures of our Communal History

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

I look forward each year, on the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to seeing so many of our community members at our annual Newark Cemetery Visiting Day, and this year was no exception. 

On Sunday, October 2, many of you came out to four of our most historic cemeteries – truly treasures of our communal history – to visit the graves of loved ones, pay respects to some of the founders of our Greater MetroWest community, and experience first-hand how Federation, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ (JCF), Beth El Memorial Park Foundation, and Raiken-Epstein Monuments Inc. are working in partnership to revitalize and maintain these beloved holy spaces.  

This work goes far beyond upkeep alone. Together we’re making it safer and easier to find headstones and making the vast amount of historical information more organized and accessible. 

At last year’s Visiting Day, one family searched the Grove Street Cemetery for hours for a family member’s grave, to no avail. They left the cemetery feeling frustrated and disappointed. This year they returned, and we were able to help them find the gravestone within minutes, thanks to newly installed section markers that clearly identify the cemetery sections, and a database that tracks and details where people are buried in Jewish cemeteries. 

Another man and his cousin came looking this year for their great-great-grandfather’s grave. They had never visited the grave before and mentioned that they believe the grave had not been visited by anyone in over 70 years. Again, we were able to find this grave within minutes. 

It’s a meaningful and poignant tradition to visit the gravesites of loved ones during the high holidays, but for many, traveling to the locations where their loved ones are buried has been daunting.  

I’m proud that our Federation, together with the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, the Newark Police Department, and the East Orange Police Department provide additional security, so all could feel comfortable visiting the historic Jewish cemeteries of Newark during our Annual Newark Cemetery Visiting Day. And I’m proud that our community has prioritized the restoration efforts that have been made over the past year that included clearing away broken beds, cleaning up pathways to safely walk through the rows, raising graves that had fallen, and installing better signage and section markers.   

It’s essential work to repair and maintain these cemeteries for generations to come. JCF’s Newark Cemeteries Support Fund is set up to ensure that this work can continue. Thank you to all who have supported this effort. Together, we’re truly making a difference. 

In the coming months we‘ll begin our cemetery documentation project (photographing stones and sending them to the database for digitization) and will be offering volunteers the opportunity to help with this effort. Please let us know if you’re interested in learning more.