Larry Shapiro carefully lifted a small black cloth to reveal a square grave marker engraved with the words “Anne Rosen 20 — Aug. 1918.”
Shapiro was one of the approximately 75 people who attended an unveiling ceremony Oct. 20 in the Jewish section of Mountain View Cemetery to honour and identify 150 formerly unmarked graves. The project is part of the Jewish Cemetery at Mountain View Restoration Project under the auspices of the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board. Its goals over the final two years of the effort include publicizing the cemetery, researching and documenting the 450 burials at the site, physical restoration including the cleaning and repair of gravestones, creating a pathway through the site, developing tours, and installing benches, a washing station and new fencing.
The Jewish Cemetery revitalization is the brainchild of Shirley Barnett who said her appreciation of the site started as a child when she came to visit her grandfather’s grave. “I liked the setting and I have done a lot of projects in the Jewish community and I thought I would like to do this,” she said, adding that after several acts of vandalism in the
Jewish Cemetery, including the tipping of headstones in July 2012, it was easier to get volunteers to help with the project.
Shapiro said he was touched by the fact incidents of vandalism led to the revitalization. He said such a reaction is a common aspect of Jewish culture by turning sadness into triumph.
“I felt personally very special unveiling them [the markers]. It’s almost like a rebirth of the death. It is something very strange. You don’t get a chance to do that every day,” he said.
According to Barnett, discovering the names of the men women, children, and infants, sometimes buried two or three to a grave, took extensive research. The unmarked graves so far have dated between 1892 and 2000, but Barnett said they are still finding graves, including several found under hedges last week, so the final tally and dates aren’t known.
The wooden markers unveiled at the ceremony will remain unless family members come forward to purchase larger headstones. While no one can say for sure why some graves were not given a marker originally, Barnett said reasons might include poverty, the practice of not marking the graves of babies who died within a week of birth, or because a family moved away or didn’t remain Jewish. Regardless of the reason, Barnett and her volunteers believe it is important to name and honour those who died.
Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt, who officiated the ceremony, said burials are a function of Jewish tradition. “Cemeteries are a preservation of our historical consciousness, our legacy. I think this project has such a beautiful character because it embodies both of these elements: the elements of kindness which are so prevalent in our tradition, but also these ideas of preserving history.”
The restoration project is funded by grants from several sources including the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board, the Heritage Legacy Fund of B.C., the Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and family foundations and individual donors.
For more information contact Myra Adirim at email@example.com