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New Jersey Jewish cemeteries receive local support

April 13th, 2006

Broward North Jewish Journal

By Veronica Zaragovia

   Journal Staff Writer 

From the looks of the Jewish cemeteries owned by Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh in Perth Amboy, one wouldn’t know that the Friends for Preservation of Middlesex County Jewish Cemeteries is trying to raise one million dollars for their restoration and maintenance.

The organization was created in 2005 by descendents of the interred who have roots in this part of New Jersey. Many now live in South Florida, either temporarily or permanently, and want to spread awareness among the now-dispersed community.

“We’ve been compiling names of people that live down here that had connections with the cemeteries,” said Sheila Schechtman, now a Tamarac resident. “Many don’t have any idea that the cemetery is in such deplorable condition. They are overrun with ivy, and the problem is we’re not there to take care of them.” 

One opportunity to spread the word took place at a reunion for current and former community members last month at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton.  The reunion was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.  Two hundred  people attended.

“I hadn’t seen [community member] Frances Diener since I was little,” Schechtman said. “When I saw her, I started crying.” 

Diener, who comes to Boynton Beach for the winter, became a supporter of Friends for Preservation of Middlesex County Jewish Cemeteries after she visited her family’s graves. 

“Although my father’s grave is nice, my mother’s grave has not one leaf left, even though we had done a lot of planting. I sent [Mona Shangold] a check, so they could plant and restore it. It’s hard to see anything the way it is now.”

Shangold, a doctor who lives in the Garden State, is the president and one of the organization’s founders.

“We started it because these are very important historic cemeteries where many loved ones are buried, and they represent not only their final resting place, but also an important chapter in the history of this Jewish community,” Shangold said. “A large number of people that came from Eastern Europe settled in Perth, so walking around the cemeteries gives people a tremendous understanding and respect for the history of the Perth Jewish community in the early 20th century.”

The deceased paid for perpetual care of their burial sites, but the funds are now insufficient and need replenishing.

“We are coming together because we all value these cemeteries and are determined to step up to action,” Shangold said. “Also buried there are the community’s leaders, friends and former teachers. This really was the community, and now it has spread all over the world.”

At the reunion, some became aware that they have ancestors buried at the cemetery.  Others found out by doing a virtual tour of the Hebrew Fraternity Cemetery and the Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh Cemetery, which is offered on the organization’s Web site.  

Because a significant number of Middlesex County residents live in South Florida, Kinnie Gorelick, who now lives in Boca Raton, spearheaded the annual reunion. Although Gorelick and her husband, Jerry, have organized it for the past 12 years, this year the chairs were Glenda and Ken Gordon of Delray Beach.

“The idea was that people are now here in Florida, but they lived in Middlesex County for many years, which is where they raised their families and had their businesses. I felt that it would be beneficial to Federation if we got them together,” Gorelick said.  

The reunions are as heartwarming as they are informational.

“It is an opportunity for us to update our friends in Florida about the Jewish community in Middlesex County [and] about Federation’s programs and services,” said Gerrie Bamira, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County. 

Since the reunion, some who attended have returned or are returning to New Jersey. Roslyn Levine, who lives in Deerfield Beach during the winter, says she plans to be in touch with Shangold when she gets back in a few weeks, to help restore the cemeteries.

“This is an ambitious undertaking,” said Shangold, “But we are optimistic.” 

For more information about Friends for Preservation of Middlesex County Jewish Cemeteries, visit www.friendsofjewishcemeteries.org.



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