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Jewish cemeteries need care

April 22nd, 2006

Home News Tribune Online 04/22/06

PERTH AMBOY — The ivy covering Elias Wedeen's 1931 gravestone at the Hebrew Fraternity Cemetery on New Brunswick Avenue in Fords has been removed.

The gravestone for Max Tarry, who was 19 when he died in 1925, will need to be straightened and the gravestone for a member of the Kramer family placed back on the base, so the front inscription is visible.

The Wedeen, Tarry, and Kramer families are among many of the members of the Perth Amboy Jewish community and members of Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh who are buried at the Hebrew Fraternity Cemetery or the Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh Cemetery on Florida Grove Road in Perth Amboy.

While much work recently has been done at the cemeteries to prune the ivy and maintain the grounds, the cemeteries will need perpetual care to fully honor those buried there.

Mona Shangold, whose parents, four grandparents, two great-grandparents as well as aunts, uncles and friends are buried at the cemeteries, is president of the Friends for Preservation of Middlesex County Jewish Cemeteries, a nonprofit organization working to repair, restore and revitalize the Orthodox Jewish cemeteries.

"These cemeteries are of tremendous historic importance. They are the final resting place for many of our ancestors. Most of the Perth Amboy Jewish community is buried in these cemeteries," Shangold said.

About 1,000 people are buried at the two cemeteries, both owned by the synagogue. The oldest grave dates to 1909, she said.

Perth Amboy once had a thriving Jewish community. Shangold, whose late father, Dr. Jack Shangold, was an obstetrician and gynecologist in Perth Amboy for 40 years, said many Eastern European people initially came to Perth Amboy because they had relatives in the city and they started businesses. Her grandfather came because his brother was already settled in Perth Amboy.

While the descendants of those buried at the cemetery may have paid for perpetual care, those funds are now insufficient to provide care forever, she said.

The Friends for Preservation of Middlesex County Jewish Cemeteries is working to raise the funds to provide the care. A $1 million goal has been set.

A cemetery tour will be held at noon tomorrow starting at the Hebrew Fraternity Cemetery, where some of the gravestones date to the early 1900s. The tour also will visit the Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh Cemetery. Tours will last about one hour at each location. Those wishing to visit the graves of relatives, view the gravestones of Perth Amboy's Jewish community, view historical information in the cemetery or see the cemetery while it undergoes improvements are invited to attend.

"We felt confident people would care and want to help. People find this is our history," said Shangold, adding tours on Mother's Day and Father's Day also are planned.

According to Shangold the cemeteries had become overgrown, especially with the ivy that grew up onto the gravestones. Some of the stones have structural damage, or have fallen after tree roots lifted them.

"We really think the cemetery deserves a more dignified look," she said. "There is a lot that needs to be done. To honor the memory of those buried there, this is what we have to do."

A professional landscaper hired by the organization has already trimmed the plants as part of the initial cleanup.

She said a tour was held in March, which in addition to calling attention to the need for upkeep, reconnected Perth Amboy families, both past and present, with old friends.

"We're all feeling a sense of community for people who had Perth Amboy roots," said Shangold, adding many of the people who attended the first tour got together afterward to talk and reminisce about growing up in Perth Amboy.

People recognized the graves of their eighth-grade teacher Rose Brody, their Hebrew School teacher, Bessie Gavronsky, Brody's sister, and Cantor Hirsch Chazin.

"Visiting the cemetery is a moving experience," she said. "It's a very special place. It's especially moving for people who grew up in that community."

Donations may be made through the Web site www.friendsofjewishcemeteries.org or by sending them to Friends for Preservation of Middlesex County Jewish Cemeteries Inc., P.O. Box 306, Moorestown, NJ 08057. Additional information may be obtained by calling (856) 222-1418.

JASON TOWLEN/Staff photographer
A headstone at Hebrew Fraternity Cemetery in Fords requires straightening.


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