Cemeteries need upkeep. A Jewish cemetery is one of the most important places in the religion, but one of the least talked about.
When Lisa Benhammou-Osur began visiting Madelyn Osur’s grave with her husband, Alan, approximately three years ago, she realized that the person in charge of the cemetery at that time was overwhelmed.
People recognized that much work needed to be done, but there was no committee in place to divide the tasks equitably.
Benhammou-Osur offered to help. She is now, along with Rebecca Neff, a co-chair of the Sons of Israel cemetery committee in Colorado Springs; the committee has eight members.
The committee has overseen an intensive project to repair and expand the grounds.
Benhammou-Osur is happy to have a group of people to share different ideas and viewpoints. “Everyone is respectful of each other,” she says, and describes it as a “great committee.”
The current expansion project for Sons of Israel is the culmination of three years of hard work.
The first step was a survey of additional land that belonged to the cemetery but was not ready to be used for interment. The survey entailed delineating the boundaries for additional blocks to determine exactly how much space was available for expansion.
Research revealed names of occupants of older graves for which there were no markers. Temple Shalom, the synagogue that owns the cemetery, organized an event on the traditional visitation day between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to unveil the new markers.
Neff reports that the cemetery currently houses 450 plots, with 165 reservations that have been purchased in advance of need. The expansion project will add more than 700 additional burial plots.
Neff became involved in the cemetery committee as a result of her father’s interest in it some years ago. Neff’s father told her there was a lot he wanted to do and needed help.
Bob Neff and his wife, Jane, have been instrumental in researching and organizing plot maps in a digital format for the cemetery. Markers were placed identifying graves, and family members have been contacted regarding plots that have remained empty for many years.
Temple Shalom then invited bids from three contractors, after which the fundraising part of the campaign could finally happen. After the contractor was chosen, work could begin.
The initial part of the project included replacing the existing retaining walls in the old part of the cemetery and erecting a new barrier wall to enclose one of the blocks earmarked for interfaith couples.
The newly surveyed ground was prepared for interment of graves by putting in pipes for sprinklers and seeding for grass.
The City of Colorado Springs had to approve each step as it was completed.
The new ground was seeded but cannot be watered until Evergreen Cemetery, which provides the water for Sons of Israel, turns the seasonal watering back on. When the grass is established, the ground will be ready to support the digging equipment necessary for interments. The completion of the cemetery project is predicted for summer 2019.
One of the phases of the cemetery expansion deals with a block set aside for interfaith couples who wish to be buried together.
The older portion of Sons of Israel was established with Orthodox rules that cannot be changed; this precludes the interment of non-Jews there.
The new block is separated from the rest of the cemetery by a newly constructed stone wall. When the ground is ready to receive heavy equipment, a new entrance will be built that will allow non-Jewish bodies to be brought into the block without passing through the Orthodox section. This will ensure that the rules will not be compromised.
Some of the original founders of Sons of Israel cemetery are buried in block seven. The oldest graves there are those of Abraham Whitebone, who died in 1902, and Louis Cohen, 1903.
Neff says of the current project: “It’s not a bad legacy. I think they would like what we’ve done.”