Generations Care for the Hebrew Cemetery by Brian Yesowitch

Mitzvah Day is a very special day for our family.  Each May, we look forward to wrapping up the school year and eagerly await the warmth and freedom that summer brings. On Mitzvah Day, our Temple does a great job of putting together opportunities for everyone to get outside of the Sunday School classroom and take advantage of the energy that “spring fever” brings.

Since 2009, our family has been involved with the cleanup and yard-work activities at the Hebrew Cemetery. That Mitzvah Day project appeals to many different groups of people for different reasons. My family likes being outdoors and working with our hands. Some people like getting off Shalom Park. Others like the multi-generational appeal of the activity. Anyone old enough to dip a sponge into water can participate. Anyone who feels young enough to be outdoors and either stand or sit under a shady tree while dusting headstones, bagging leaf and lawn debris, picking up small bits of trash, or raking gravel can be a part of this important service to our Charlotte Jewish community.

Some of you are asking some good questions at this point.  “What is this cemetery?” “Where is it?” “Why do we as Temple Beth El clean it?”  These are all good questions. In the 1940s when Temple Beth El was founded, the cemetery had already been in place in Charlotte for nearly 80 years prior. In 1867, many years before a synagogue, or Jewish school was founded, a dozen or so Jewish families in Charlotte pooled their money together to purchase 11 acres north of Uptown Charlotte to purchase the land for a “bet olam” – an eternal home- (cemetery) for Jewish people. Over the last 150 years, our Charlotte Hebrew Cemetery has become the final resting place for many Jewish Charlotteans including many of our Temple’s founders. Those names include: Harry Golden (our Temple’s first Secretary and co-author of our original bylaws), the Goodmans, The Blumenthals, The Schlosses, The Kahns, Gottheimers, Madalia and Stewart families, some of whom no longer have relatives in Charlotte. Each Shabbat, we rise as a community to offer Kaddish in memory of those who no longer have family to recite Kaddish on their behalf. On Mitzvah Day, we add “avodah” (work) to our “brachot” (prayer) in memory of those who came before us.

Hebrew Cemetery “cleanup” is a wonderful way to spend time together as a family. The questions that come out of the mouths of little ones on that day are thoughtful and refreshing. Our cemetery is not a gloomy place. Generations of “cleanup” activities like our Mitzvah Day have kept it bright, green, and welcoming to all. Bonnie and Thor-Erik Borreson are leading this year’s cleanup. My family and I look forward to seeing everyone at this year’s Mitzvah Day.

REGISTER TODAY for the Hebrew Cemetery Cleanup or other Mitzvah Day projects to help with on May 6!