A new Jewish cemetery in Pittsburgh is not an everyday occurrence.
That is why clouds and drizzle did not deter the sizable group of Temple Ohav Shalom congregants and religious school students from gathering this past Sunday to dedicate the Temple Ohav Shalom Memorial Garden and unveil the new sign.
The new memorial garden is located on the grounds of Beth Shalom Cemetery. It is accessible from within the cemetery’s main gates on Anderson Road in Shaler Township or, more directly, via the second entrance.
Rabbi Bryna Milkow and music director Andrea Schwalberg led the group in several psalms to commemorate the occasion.
In addition to the dedication, the morning consisted of K’vurat Shemot, a book burial in which several boxes of old holy books were placed in an open grave while the rabbi and several congregants ceremonially shoveled dirt on top of the books.
Larry Garber, chair of Ohav’s cemetery committee, and Ken Eisner, former congregational president, spearheaded the project, which had been several years in the making.
Garber noted that while the cemetery might not be the impetus for new members to join the temple, it is nevertheless an important component of synagogue affiliation. “It enables us to complete the life cycle,” he said. “We take care of families from birth to death and everything in between.”
“It is a responsibility of the community to take care of our members throughout the life span, and this is another way in which we care for our community,” added Rabbi Milkow, noting that the cemetery acquisition is meaningful, as it demonstrates the growth and maturity of the congregation.
Previously, the congregation had burial space within Allegheny County Memorial Park, just down the street from the temple. The new memorial garden will have space for 516 plots.
The Temple Ohav Shalom Memorial Garden will permit spouses of another faith to be buried alongside their Jewish spouses, an attractive option for interfaith families who would be precluded from doing so at Conservative cemeteries.
“The fact that a non-Jewish spouse can be buried beside their Jewish mate is very, very important,” said Garber. “In the Jewish movement, we have more mixed marriages going on than not.”
However, Garber points out, the memorial garden is indeed a Jewish cemetery: only Jewish clergy will be permitted to officiate at funerals, and no non-Jewish insignia will be allowed, though nonsectarian symbols will be allowed.
The arrangement with Beth Shalom is a good fit for both congregations.
“We’re glad to have Ohav Shalom join us,” said Lonnie Wolf, Beth Shalom’s cemetery director. “We are large enough to handle this for the next 300 to 400 years,” he said, noting that, as people have moved away from the area and are living longer, the number of funerals has decreased. Beth Shalom will maintain the grounds.
“I think this is a really important milestone for the temple and a really valuable asset for the community,” said current Temple Ohav Shalom president, Bob Gibbs. “We all owe a great debt of thanks to Ken, Larry and Lonnie for their vision and leadership for making this happen.”
The cemetery is open to the whole Jewish community in the greater Pittsburgh area and joins the more than 50 established Jewish cemeteries in the region.
Inquiries about purchasing gravesites can be made through Temple Ohav Shalom or Beth Shalom.
Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.