The entrance to the newly established Jewish section of Cedar Valley Gardens Cemetery. (photo from OJKMS)
On July 9, in beautiful sunshine, a little bit of history for the Jewish community in central Vancouver Island was made when the new Jewish cemetery in Cedar, near Nanaimo, was consecrated in a ceremony attended by many members of the local Jewish and non-Jewish communities, who participated in the service by walking around the perimeter of the new burial ground, which is a completely segregated part of the Cedar Valley Gardens cemetery.
The new cemetery, which will provide a beit olam for Jews in the area, meets all halachic standards. It took over a year to become a reality, spearheaded by local residents Yvette and David Freeman of Qualicum Beach.
The Cedar cemetery location was first viewed by Elaine Berkman, z”l, of Nanaimo some years ago who, when her time came, wanted to be buried near her home and family. In a prophetic turn of events, she was the first person to be laid to rest in the new cemetery. Her funeral was held immediately after the consecration ceremony, which was brought forward as a result of her death.
Until a few years ago, burial on Vancouver
Island for those Jews who did not want to be buried off the Island was at the Congregation Emanu-El Cemetery in Victoria. Then, a few Victoria residents got together and arranged for an alternative Jewish section in the Hatley Gardens Cemetery near Royal Roads University. That still left community members living further up Island having to use Victoria for Jewish burial, with the attendant journey over the Malahat, often treacherous during the winter, and making for long journeys for spouses and other family members wishing to visit the graves of loved-ones.
Two years ago, the Freemans started to look for a suitable location for a small Jewish cemetery and, after one or two unsuccessful attempts, finally found Cedar Valley Gardens, where the management were happy to cooperate in finding a solution to the requirements for a truly halachic cemetery within the bounds of its grounds.
Once the basic understanding was agreed between Cedar Valley Gardens’ owners and the Freemans, Oceanside Jewish Kvarot Memorial Society was formed and incorporated by David Freeman, who is a lawyer, and binding agreements (including perpetual care and maintenance of the grounds) were finalized with Arbor Memorials (the owners of Cedar Valley Gardens), Sands Funeral Chapel and the new memorial society for a completely segregated section for a Jewish cemetery.
The only obstacle was money since, quite reasonably, the cemetery would not agree to start the various steps required to bring about the necessary changes until expenses were paid. Unfortunately, the North American reluctance to acknowledge that we all have a finite time on this earth and to deal with the practicalities of pre-planned end-of-life decisions meant that there was little or no interest in joining in financially. So, the Freemans decided that they had to front-end the project and to personally guarantee the funds to purchase the grave plots.
With the help of the property manager, the new section began to take shape with all the necessary requirements for a Jewish cemetery. With the project in its final stages, the society still only had the two directors, and the Freemans were pleased to have another member of the local community, Richard Steinberg, join the society’s board. Since Berkman’s funeral, there have been a number of enquiries from local residents after seeing the cemetery grounds.
The Jewish cemetery is operated under the direction of the Oceanside Jewish Kvarot Memorial Society, to which any enquiries can be made to [email protected].