Rabbi Jonathan Perlman hopes a new monument to the Holocaust, which will be unveiled this Sunday at New Light Cemetery, in Shaler Township, will stir new interest in the Jewish tradition of visiting family graves prior to the High Holy Days.
He said the tradition, known in Hebrew as kever avot, is not as widely observed as it once was, and needs to be revived.
Urbach Memorials, a division of Rome Monument, is donating the 6-foot-tall, 3-ton granite monument, which will be unveiled during the 11 a.m. ceremony at the cemetery. Perlman, the spiritual leader of New Light, will be conducting.
The monument is constructed of black rock granite, roughly hewn to represent the unfinished lives of those who perished during the Holocaust. Its size represents the average height of a man.
“I have always felt very strongly that we should acknowledge the dead of the Shoa in the cemeteries,” Perlman said. “These were people who didn’t have graves. Many of them were [killed] in the crematories; many were buried in mass graves. We don’t know the dates of their deaths. For those who have lost loved ones it’s a constant heartache for the families, and when it comes around the holidays, there’s no place we can go back to and say, ‘this is where my bubbe was buried, or my children.’ ”
Perlman first discussed the idea a year ago with Jim Gilbert, caretaker of the New Light and nearby Anshei Lubavitch Cemetery, who actually suggested approaching Urbach with the project.
“I was bemoaning the fact that most people don’t take the concept of kever avot more seriously than they used to,” Perlman said. “We were thinking of ways to reintroduce this age old tradition as well as fulfill this idea that the Holocaust should be memorialized at cemeteries.”
Months later, Gilbert told Perlman that Urbach owner John Dioguardi wanted to meet him. When they met in early August, Diogardi offered to donate the monument and the labor.
“I was completely taken aback,” Perlman said. “John is from an Italian family; this is not his history. But he shares the same conviction I do, that we should remember Holocaust victims in cemeteries.”
“Community is extremely important to us,” said Heath Peterson, spokesman for Urbach Memorials. “We have donated time and resources to many cemeteries in Pittsburgh over the years. We also have several programs designed to help the community.
We donate memorials to underprivileged Jews in Pittsburgh.”
The stone has three inscriptions engraved in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. The English reads, “In memory of our Jewish brothers and sisters who perished in the Shoah 1933-1945.”
The Hebrew and Yiddish inscriptions are variations on the English.
Perlman also credited Myron Snider, chair of New Light cemetery committee, for his work on the project.
Most Jewish cemeteries do not have a separate Holocaust memorial, but some do, including the Beth Shalom cemetery in Pittsburgh.
Eventually, New Light may try to enhance the grounds around the monument, according to Perlman.
We’re thinking about creating a garden around it and a path of flagstones leading up to the garden,” he said, “but the first thing we want to put in place is the monument.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)