In the Jewish Cemetery at Mountain View, a shroud was erected to protect the Kravitz family headstones. (photo from Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board)
Responsible for three Jewish cemeteries in the Lower Mainland, the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board recently completed several projects.
Unable to restore two of the most interesting headstones at the Jewish Cemetery at Mountain View, a large metal shroud was erected for protection over the Kravitz family headstones. Designed by Bill Pechet and donated by the City of Vancouver and Saul Goldberg, a cousin of the family, this has added a unique decorative feature in the cemetery, as well as essential protection from the elements.
The Kravitz/Goldberg family has been traced back to the 1800s and has four members buried in this pioneer cemetery. Leah Deslauriers, Saul Goldberg’s daughter, provided a family history that completed missing pieces of information about the family. Translation of the poetry on the headstones was completed by Daniella Givon and mounted in weatherproof panels inside the shroud.
With the protection in place for these headstones, this site already has become a highlight for visitors on their walking tours.
Inside the new Schara Tzedeck Funeral Chapel in Surrey is a beautiful Memorial Giving Tree. Designed and created by Eclipse Awards, this tree made of maple, cherry and walnut woods is prominently displayed at the entrance to the new chapel. It will contain engravings that members of the community may purchase to memorialize their loved ones buried in Surrey. The tree can contain up to 100 elements to be inscribed, ranging from small leaves to birds.
Years ago, the elders of the community were asked to place headstones on unmarked graves. Today, the Chesed Shel Emet Fund, fulfils that mandate. This past year, more than 50 headstones were placed on gravesites where there were no headstones. In some cases, there were no families to do so and, in many cases, there was a financial inability to have a marker.
The Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board, under the executive director Howard Jampolsky, board chairs Jack Kowarsky and Arnold Silber, and funeral director Joseph Marciano, works to ensure that all members of the community not only have a dignified burial, no matter what their financial situation is, but also works to initiate projects that serve the community and help maintain the beauty of its cemeteries.
This past year, other projects have included a new irrigation system, the establishment of a water/well in New Westminster and the ability to manufacture burial caskets on-site. The cemetery board and the Chevra Kadisha also produced an informative video on tahara (the process of preparing people for burial), which may be seen on the website cemeteryboard.com.
For more information on these and other projects, contact Jampolsky at 604-733-2277, ext. 204.
The new black granite memorial wall at Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster allows people to memorialize loved ones buried in other cities. (photo from Schara Tzedeck)
What’s new at the cemetery? Not a question one tends to ask, but the Schara Tzedeck cemeteries in New Westminster and Surrey have seen some significant upgrades and additions in recent months.
At the New Westminster cemetery, which saw its first burial in 1929, 50 graves that did not have headstones have received permanent markers. More than 100 others will ideally also see stone markers added in the coming years as the cemetery board’s Chesed Shel Emet Fund is replenished.
There are plenty of reasons why a grave might not have a permanent headstone, according to Howard Jampolsky, executive director of the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board.
“Sometimes, somebody had no family, maybe they were destitute, alone in the world,” he said. “Sometimes, the families just don’t have money; sometimes, one spouse dies and they get a headstone and the other spouse dies and there is no one to put the headstone.”
Whatever the reasons, the graves, some dating back to the 1950s, had temporary markers.
The Chesed Shel Emet Fund was set up primarily with donations from cemetery board members, Jampolsky said, and the first batch of 50 headstones was purchased for these unmarked graves and placed in the last few months.
“We were hoping to do a big unveiling ceremony, where all the graves would be unveiled and we would invite the community,” he said. But COVID intervened. He hopes such a ceremony will occur in the future.
The headstones cost about $525 each and the board is welcoming donations from the community to the fund so they can proceed with placing more stones.
Also at New Westminster, a new black granite memorial wall has been created to commemorate people who are buried in other places.
“Sometimes, someone lives in Vancouver their entire life and they die and get buried in another place, maybe they’re sent to Toronto or Israel or somewhere else,” Jampolsky said. “This is an opportunity to memorialize somebody who lived in the city and contributed to the city’s life and they don’t have a headstone here. The other possibility is people who have parents or family buried in other places where they live and don’t have the ability to go and visit. If you want to come on the yahrzeit, you can come and put a rock on top of that.”
The New Westminster cemetery also has seen a green irrigation initiative recently completed.
“We spend a lot of money irrigating our green grass here, a lot of water,” he said. “We used potable city water.”
They have now drilled a well and are also capturing rainwater, which is pumped through the irrigation system. Not only is this better for the environment, Jampolsky said, but the $150,000 cost will be recouped in about eight years at current water rates. He sees the greening initiative as in keeping with Jewish burial tradition, which is respectful of the land, rejects concrete casings and does not include embalming.
In other significant news, the Surrey cemetery, which had its first burial about a dozen years ago, now has a chapel. Until now, funerals at the Surrey site were graveside only. A sad irony is that the pandemic has meant that, after the first couple of funerals in the new chapel, services had to be again curtailed to graveside only, and with limited attendance.
The $500,000 structure was completed in late 2019 and reflects the philosophy of the board, Jampolsky said, that all members of the community be treated equally. Those being buried in New Westminster had funerals in a chapel, while those in Surrey did not. The new Surrey chapel was funded within the existing budget, but, if a community member wanted to contribute to the chapel, Jampolsky said, naming opportunities could be considered.
“The other thing we’re doing in Surrey is spending more time and effort and money to make Surrey look a lot nicer,” he said. “We are doing more landscaping work, we’re planting flowers and doing things that make it look very, very nice. We’re putting a lot of effort into that property.”
The Surrey cemetery contains about 2,000 plots while the much older New Westminster site has about 10,000. While approximately 5,000 of the New Westminster plots are filled, Jampolsky acknowledges that he can’t accurately predict how long the cemetery has before it is full.
“It really depends,” he said. There are about 80 burials annually in New Westminster. That would suggest about 60 years before it is full. But the community is growing quickly, so perhaps it would be only 50 years. At the same time, a plot may be purchased and not used for decades, he said. If a young family purchased plots today, it is reasonable to assume some burials might not occur until the 22nd century.
The Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board has appointed its board of directors for 2018, and is planning more facility upgrades for the coming year.
The cemetery board is co-chaired by Jack Kowarsky and Arnold Silber. Other members of the board are Shirley Barnett, Harvey Dales, Joshua Hauser, Dr. Mark Schonfeld, Gary Segal, Herb Silber, Isidor Wolfe, Rabbi Yosef Wosk and Barrie Yackness. Honourary board members are Charles Diamond and Joseph Segal. Howard Kallner, president of Congregation Schara Tzedeck, also serves on the board in an ex-officio capacity.
The board has made significant improvements to the chapel in New Westminster over the past two years. Constructed in the early 1990s to house the chevra kadisha, as well as to provide a chapel at the New Westminster cemetery, this building was in need of repairs and upgrades. This $600,000 project was completed last year with the generous contributions of many in our community.
Other improvements to the New Westminster cemetery included beautification initiatives and projects to help manage the organization more efficiently, including developing a grave-finding system that people can instal on their mobile devices, a GIS (geographic information system) to better track records and land use at the cemetery, and the implementation of a system that broadcasts funerals on the internet so that those unable to attend in person can view the funeral. (This service is available at cemeteryboard.com.)
This year, the board is planning to move ahead with another key project. The community cemetery located in Surrey has about 2,500 plots, and began having burials in 2008. To date, there is little infrastructure at that location, only a small handwashing station and a portable building.
Plans are being developed for the construction of a chapel building that will allow the cemetery to better serve those who choose this location. The chapel will seat between 40 and 50 people, provide a private space for families to gather prior to a funeral service and have two accessible washrooms. It will also provide facilities for cemetery board groundskeepers to store equipment. Part of this project will include improvements to the fencing of the cemetery, as well as improving the gardening and landscaping to make the cemetery a more welcoming place.
The cemetery board provides its services to the entire community. Members and non-members of Congregation Schara Tzedeck may purchase plots in any of the cemeteries. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and those involved with congregations associated with other Jewish movements, all use the chevra kadisha, which is comprised of diverse members of the greater Jewish community. Funeral directors Rev. Joseph Marciano and Howard Jampolsky (who also serves as the executive director) are available anytime to answer any questions, and to provide more information about the availability of burial plots in all three of the community’s cemeteries – New Westminster, Surrey and the Jewish section of Mountain View. They are also available to provide information about pre-planning funerals in order to relieve family members of this task during the difficult time when a loved one passes away. They can be reached at 604-733-2277.
To learn more about the board or to contribute to the current Surrey Chapel Project, call Jampolsky at 604-733-2277 ext. 204, or email [email protected].
The consecration of Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster in 1929. Eliya Ahroni, left, shammas of the synagogue, with shul president Chaim Leib Freedman, who was also founder of the Vancouver Chevra Kadisha in 1910. (photo from Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia L.00306)
The organization that oversees three of Metro Vancouver’s Jewish cemeteries does not want to discourage anyone from planning ahead and purchasing plots right now. They do, however, want to dispel rumors that the cemeteries are running out of space.
“I’m not trying to discourage people from buying plots,” said Howard Jampolsky, executive director of the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board, “but we do have adequate land in New Westminster [for now]. We feel that we have probably between 25 and 40 years left in New Westminster of burial land available, based on projections and current rates.”
The Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board operates Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster and a newer one in Surrey. It also is involved with the City of Vancouver in overseeing the Jewish area at Mountain View, the city-owned cemetery on Fraser Street.
Other Jewish cemeteries in the area are run by Temple Sholom, the Reform synagogue in Vancouver; Har-El, the Conservative congregation on the North Shore; Beth Israel, the Conservative congregation in Vancouver; and Beth Tikvah, the Conservative congregation in Richmond.
In an interview with the Independent, Jampolsky clarified the administrative structure of Jewish funerals and burials in the Vancouver area. Although other congregations have cemeteries, the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board is solely responsible for everything that happens in the preparation for Jewish funerals, regardless of affiliation or denomination.
The Chevra Kadisha, the Jewish Burial Society, effectively operates as an adjunct to the cemetery board, which is an independent organization originally created in 1929 under the auspices of Congregation Schara Tzedeck, the oldest and largest Orthodox synagogue in Vancouver. The Chevra Kadisha, which literally means the “holy society,” consists of volunteers who prepare the deceased for burial. More than three millennia of Jewish rites are embodied in the rituals performed by the Chevra Kadisha.
Beyond this most intimate act, the cemetery board also oversees the entire process before the service at the cemetery.
“We provide all the funeral services,” Jampolsky said. “[These include] the registration of the deceased, the picking up at the hospital or the home, taking them out to our funeral home, which is attached to the cemetery in New Westminster, providing the ritual preparation for burial, services of the Chevra Kadisha, which include sitting with the deceased from the time they come to us until the burial, and everything to do with the conducting of a funeral.” Rev. Joseph Marciano is Schara Tzedeck’s funeral director.
If the funeral is at one of the Schara Tzedeck cemeteries, the entire process remains under the board’s purview. If the deceased is to be buried in another cemetery, the cemetery board is responsible for everything up until they transport the person to the cemetery, where the rabbi and congregation take over. As a result, regardless of denomination, all Jewish deceased in Metro Vancouver receive full Orthodox preparation for burial.
Jampolsky stressed that one does not need to be a member of Schara Tzedeck to be buried in one of their cemeteries, one need only be Jewish.
The board, which is made up of eminent community members, is co-chaired by Jack Kowarsky and Charles Diamond. Diamond’s father, Jack Diamond, z”l, initiated the board’s current structure decades ago.
The Mountain View Jewish Cemetery has been undergoing a restoration this year, after decades of limited attention. J.B. Newall, the monument company located across from the cemetery, has renovated many of the oldest headstones.
“The headstones that are 100 years old look like they’re brand-new,” Jampolsky said. “It’s going to be a really remarkable place to walk through.”
In addition to the physical restoration taking place under the leadership of Shirley Barnett and a committee of volunteers, a campaign aims to raise funds for perpetual care to maintain the cemetery as it should be.
The oldest Jewish cemetery in the metro area – and the only one inside Vancouver city limits – still sees one or two funerals a year, Jampolsky said, despite the widespread belief that it is full.
Unlike the cemeteries in New Westminster and Surrey, which are fully operated and maintained by the cemetery board, the Jewish section of Mountain View remains under the ownership and operation of the city, like the larger cemetery from which it is separated by a hedge.
Jampolsky said a leading cemetery architect told him that the New Westminster cemetery is among the nicest in North America, in terms of natural beauty, upkeep and maintenance. Hollywood North has noticed, too.
“We’ve had movie companies come and want to film there and we’ve turned them away,” Jampolsky said. “We don’t need the revenue from that. We don’t think it’s respectful to the deceased.”
The board is a nonprofit organization and costs are covered by funeral expenses – $11,000 includes every aspect of preparation and the funeral if the deceased is being buried in a Schara Tzedeck cemetery; $5,575 if they are to be buried in one of the other Jewish cemeteries. The cost of the plot is also currently $11,000 at the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster. Twenty percent of all plot fees are set aside in trust for perpetual maintenance.
Families with financial constraints are offered discreet, compassionate assistance, said Jampolsky. “We believe that every Jewish person has a right to a Jewish burial, a full halachic Jewish burial that is like any other, and we’ll never turn back from that.”
Jewish tradition makes funerals not only plain in style and appearance, but comparatively simple in terms of planning, Jampolsky noted. Every Jewish person is buried in identical caskets, made of plain unadorned wood and no metal, with holes in the base to hasten decomposition and return of the body to the earth. There is none of the competitive materialism typical of the funeral industry, where anecdotes abound of families being upsold on higher-end caskets and elaborate ceremonies.
Jewish funerals are almost identical, he said, regardless of the individual’s position in life. The same care is given to respect the individual throughout the preparation.
“I really believe that we do an important, invaluable job for the community and that we do good and holy work, we do it well, every single person is treated with the utmost care, respect, whether they’re living or they’re deceased.”