New memorial to honor children at Beth Abraham cemetery
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MemorializationRemembering children lost to history

New memorial to honor children at Beth Abraham cemetery

"We thought it would be a real mitzvah for us to donate toward the memorial and recognize those children," Bernstine said.

Children's memorial to be dedicated at Beth Abraham cemetery Dec. 12. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association.
Children's memorial to be dedicated at Beth Abraham cemetery Dec. 12. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association.

Barry Rudel, the executive director of the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association of Greater Pittsburgh,
believes in the dignity of those buried in Jewish cemeteries — and that dignity extends beyond those who are visited regularly and memorialized with headstones.

On Sunday, Dec. 12, the JCBA will dedicate a new monument to 71 children interred at Beth Abraham Cemetery, many in unmarked graves.

Rudel said that Beth Abraham is the area’s third-oldest cemetery. While most Jewish cemeteries have children’s sections, he noted it’s not unusual for some graves to be unmarked.

“Often, there are no arrangements when a child passes away, especially in older cemeteries,” he said. “In Beth Abraham, almost half of the graves are unmarked.”

The identities of the children are maintained in JCBA records, Rudel said, and can also be found in the Western Pennsylvania Jewish Cemetery database at the Heinz History Center’s Rauh Jewish History Program and Archives. Each of the names will be read aloud as part of the dedication.

The monument, which is the size of a double headstone, features an image of a lamb. Rudel said the animal is often a symbol of purity and innocence in the Torah and is something that is commonly seen on children’s headstones.

JCBA purchased the memorial, which was designed by Urbach Memorials in consultation with JCBA’s executive committee. It was supported by New Castle’s Temple Hadar Israel Endowment Fund.

Sam Bernstine, who served as the last president of the New Castle congregation, said that when the synagogue closed its doors in 2017, it created several different funds overseen by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Two funds were created to care for two cemeteries in the former congregation’s community, and a third was created to continue the legacy of the temple.

Bernstine, who serves as the president of the board overseeing the latter fund, said the board seeks out opportunities to help various organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, locally, regionally and throughout the United States. The fund has donated $20,000 a year for the last four years through $5,000 grants to various organizations.

JCBA has formed a relationship with Temple Hadar Israel, Bernstine said, because at some point in the future there will be no one left in New Castle to care for the Jewish cemeteries. When that happens, JCBA will manage and maintain that care.

Bernstine said he learned of Beth Abraham’s unmarked children’s graves though a conversation with Rudel.

“We just couldn’t believe those graves were unmarked and unrecognized,” Bernstine said. “When [Rudel] told me they were putting a monument together, we thought it would be a real mitzvah for us to donate toward the memorial and recognize those children.”

JCBA currently manages or helps manage 21 cemeteries throughout Western Pennsylvania.

Harvey Wolsh, president of the organization, said that JCBA learned of the children’s section as part of its work to rehabilitate Beth Abraham cemetery, which included installing a fence, repairing railings and removing debris on the property.

“Beth Abraham is one of the largest cemeteries we take care of,” Wolsh said. “Over the years, it was really neglected. There were a lot of dead trees when we took it on. We knew we had to improve it.”

He said JCBA’s work at the cemetery has been significant.

The memorial and dedication are something new for the organization, Wolsh said. His hope is that the project will help JCBA find families related to the children.

Wolsh said he’s proud of the work JCBA has done. He noted that the organization needs an endowment of $5 million which would allow it to care for possibly 75 cemeteries in the region.

For Bernstine, the idea to help create a memorial dedicated to children outside of New Castle was a simple one.

“Our philosophy is that even a temple, synagogue, mosque or church is just a building, a brick-and-mortar facility,” Bernstine said. “It’s really about how you live your life. We thought this was another example of how we could take this and extend it beyond New Castle to this cemetery for these children.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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