Monday, July 16, 2012

Volunteers make new West Roxbury cemetery a reality for community

Buying a gravesite for a loved one is one of the most emotional purchases people may make in their lifetime ? and finding a space in Boston can be especially challenging for those looking for a traditional Jewish cemetery.

Wanting to meet the needs of their congregation and the local community, Brookline?s Temple Emeth recently consecrated Or Emet in West Roxbury at the Baker Street cemeteries.

Meaning Genuine Light, Or Emet was chosen as the name ?because we quoted a biblical text from the Book of Proverbs which said, ?The soul of man is the candle of God,?? said Temple Emeth?s Rabbi Alan Turetz.

Sixty years ago, the temple bought two non-contiguous parcels of land in the West Roxbury lots ? one is Temple Emeth Memorial Park, which is full, and the other is Or Emet.

The land was developed not only to meet a need, but to follow ?the priorities of our ancient forbearers? in creating a final resting place for the dead, said Turetz. He added the ?enormous reverence we have for life? is why the new 1,200-grave cemetery is so important.

There are ?very few places that are as special as ours ? in the local Boston area,? said Brookline resident Harvey Albert, temple treasurer.

Design helps console bereaved

A group of temple volunteers worked diligently to develop the new West Roxbury cemetery ? one of 39 in the Baker Street burial area.

Newton resident Peter Shapiro, a temple member and volunteer, said that Alan J. MacKinnon, president of West Roxbury?s Gardens at Gethsemane, recommended Blair Hines Design Associates in Brookline to make their vision a reality.

Hines, who has also worked on Boston?s Forest Hills Cemetery, said the Temple Emeth volunteers he worked with had ?a sense of community responsibility? in making the space meaningful to friends and family members who visit Or Emet.

?A cemetery that?s beautiful acts to console the bereaved,? said Hines, a Brookline resident.

The volunteers wanted to create places where people could gather and there are seating areas beside the entry gate and in the center of the cemetery, which ?suggest you can stay as long as you like,? said Hines, who has been designing cemeteries for 20 years.

A sculpture, which could be interpreted as an open book or open hands, holds stones that are traditionally placed on Jewish graves. Hines said it?s a simple, circular design, symbolic of life and death.

?There are a few things in life that link us (all). ? Birth and death are the bookends of life,? he said.

Meeting the challenge

?We?re just volunteers. We have regular day jobs. We do this from our heart,? said Albert about why he decided to become involved in the project.

?Over time we ? saw the opportunity to serve the greater community and continue the tradition (of having a Conservative/Orthodox cemetery),? Shapiro said.

?It was a challenging piece of property because there was a lot of ledge,? he said. ?Some of the other congregations in the old days came over with picks and shovels and did it by hand.?

?With (the new) technology (we have now) we blasted, we crushed the stone, we brought in dirt and we were able to level off the property,? Shapiro said.

Before beginning, Shapiro said he and the other volunteers reached out to get ideas of what people would want when they visit the cemetery and work out logistical issues while beginning the design process.

?There was a lot of thought that went into all these little details,? he said.

From a financial standpoint, said Albert, members waited until the temple?s other cemetery was full before developing Or Emet. He said the temple has a strong endowment that helped pay for it.

A change in perception

Albert said he ?had a personal transformation in how I view the space,? since the project began. ?It has changed the way I view cemeteries completely.

?It does have more of an inspirational feel than a feeling of sadness and morbidness,? he added. ?What we?ve done is so important to people.?

As Hines noted, a cemetery?s design is all about ?creating a beautiful place for people to go through the grieving process.?

Albert, who lost his own mother recently, said he felt moved during the June consecration ceremony. He said the efforts to complete Or Emet made him ?feel like I?m supporting people that I?m close to.?

?I stop by pretty regularly. ? It uplifts me.?



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