Jewish Community Legacy Project
While driving through an American small town, who hasn’t glimpsed a building with faded Hebrew inscriptions or signage that clearly was once a synagogue? There’s the pleasure of recognition, and then the sad thought, “Jews lived here, but I guess not anymore.” Or maybe you are a Jew from one of these small towns. You remember being one of very few Jews living there in your childhood, and like most of your Jewish peers, you too later moved to a larger community.
While hundreds of such tiny communities of Jews are still in existence, it is a fact that Jewish populations in small towns are dwindling, and many congregations are, sadly, having to close. And closing isn’t simple.
A synagogue building, while the site of so many memories, can be sold for another use. But its remaining members must find a not-too-distant welcoming congregation, and precious documents and ritual objects must be honored and preserved.
Just as equally important, the community’s cemetery must be protected as a sacred legacy—-even when there are apparently few people or limited resources to do that.
It’s good news, then, that Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati has a new partner to assist nearby congregations in planning for the perpetual care of their cemeteries. Jewish Community Legacy Project (JCLP) is a non-profit resource for small congregations located outside of metropolitan areas that have an aging population and dwindling leadership, but yet a desire to ensure their legacy.
JCLP acts as a liaison between such congregations and a variety of national and local partners, like JCGC, facilitating actions focusing on a Jewish cemetery’s short-term financial sustainability, and then on long-term planning to cover its perpetual care. Of course, this is just one important aspect of JCLP’s work. Beyond addressing cemetery issues, it introduces congregations to important investment management partners and assists in planning for the preservation of historic congregational documents and the respectful disposition of ritual objects.
The collaboration also seeks to identify ways in which the congregation’s legacy can live on, such as through an endowment established in their name at a nearby Federation or other Jewish institution. For example, after selling their building, a congregation in Pennsylvania established a scholarship fund for travel to Israel, named after the congregation and held by the Pittsburgh Federation.
JCLP helps dwindling congregations address their cemetery issues such as how to provide upkeep, security, and even funeral services, and quite often relieves the anxieties of not knowing what will happen when no one is able to oversee the cemetery. It introduces them as well to digital resources such as JewishGen, to memorialize burial and Yahrzeit information: http://www.iajgsjewishcemeteryproject.org/index.html.
As a reliable resource, Jewish Community Legacy Project has introduced struggling congregations in the region around Cincinnati to JCGC. One such nearby congregation is currently in discussions with JCGC to arrange for perpetual care of their cemetery, the repository of so much sacred communal memory. JCGC expects to provide similar customized guidance to other struggling communities, as they reach out to JCLP for help.