I had been trying to locate my grandparents’ and baby sister’s headstones for quite some time. Both of my parents have passed, so it’s been a challenge. I heard there was someone at Federation who could help. I called Lisa Vaeth [the director of the cemetery association], who offered to do some research. Within 15 minutes she emailed me with pictures of the headstones, the location of the cemetery, and instructions on visiting and safety.
After my cemetery visit, I called Lisa to thank her. I was able to locate my sister, whose headstone had turned 90 degrees, but I couldn’t find my grandparents. Lisa sent me a quote that same day to have my sister’s headstone fixed, and it was completed within weeks. This isn’t the end of the story: I went to the cemetery a second time and when I still couldn’t find my grandparents, Lisa actually came to the cemetery that same day and took photos of the entrance and the headstone for me! I guess what moved me the most was that while she was there, she placed stones on the top of the headstone – several for my family, and one from her. How often do you come across someone who cares so deeply about what they do?
According to Jewish tradition, caring for the dead is chesed shel emet, “the truest act of kindness.” Federation is proud to make our historic cemeteries a community priority. Lisa Vaeth is joined by lay leaders like Henry Zachs and Victor Bernstein, who co-chair the Association, and others who take this sacred work to heart.
The challenge, however, is funding: While some of the cemeteries come to Federation with leftover funds, we spend over $100,000 a year from our operating budget on cemeteries, and the cost continues to grow. Many of the cemeteries in formerly Jewish neighborhoods are now targets for vandals, which means frequent and expensive repairs. And we expect to take on new cemeteries in the coming years.
Within that context, we are delighted to share that the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford has made a bold and generous commitment to help ensure the perpetual care of these cemeteries. Since 2019, the Foundation has committed to contributing 10 percent of new unrestricted contributions it receives to the Hartford Jewish Cemeteries Restoration Fund, the interest from which benefits Federation’s efforts to maintain the dignity of our Jewish burial sites. This month, the Foundation transferred $360,000 to this fund, bringing the total it has contributed to $500,000.
Foundation President and CEO Jacob Schreiber reflected on this commitment: “Our tradition dictates that every Jewish community must build a cemetery and maintain it in a dignified manner for generations to come. We applaud Federation for taking on the sacred responsibility of caring for Greater Hartford’s abandoned Jewish cemeteries, and we hope that the Foundation’s contribution to the Hartford Jewish Cemeteries Restoration Fund will shine a light on the critical importance of maintaining our burial places – and motivate people of all ages to contribute to this holy cause.”
Caring for the dead is considered the truest act of kindness because the beneficiary is never able to express thanks. Today, however, our entire community can say thank you – to the Association’s lay leaders and staff, and most especially to the Jewish Community Foundation for its extraordinarily generous commitment.