Restoration continues at the B’nai Israel Cemetery in Norfolk

July 12, 2019

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With a significant contribution from United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Cemetery Fund, coupled with the tireless work of numerous volunteers, B’nai Israel Cemetery is showing the results of a massive restoration effort that began 14 months ago. B’nai Israel Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 1,100 individuals who lived, worked, and worshiped in Tidewater’s Jewish community.

Lt. Commander Adam Goldberg (Ret.), chairman of the B’nai Israel Cemetery committee, says that 142 damaged, cracked, or fallen headstones have been repaired. Volunteers restored 54 of those markers, saving an estimated $23,500 on the overall cost of the project.

Approximately $32,050 was spent to overhaul 92 stones and complete maintenance at the south and southeastern walls. This includes efforts to stop further deterioration caused by overgrown vegetation, as well as adding extra support to that portion of the wall to keep it from falling over. Debris from the back cemetery has also been removed and the land leveled.

Says Goldberg, “Volunteers will continue the ongoing task of removing vines, moss, lichen, and other growths from the headstones and clearing sidewalks covered in grass. An additional 83 stones with minor damage are scheduled to be repaired by volunteers in the next year or two.”

Goldberg and B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Sender Haber are creating and producing a clear and concise map of the cemetery, outsourced to a company that will produce the final electronic copy. The cemetery’s online registry is currently up-to-date, but will be upgraded in the next few years. The online registry may be accessed by going to usgwarchives.net/va/norfolkcity/cemeteries/bnai/bnai-a-b.html.

Plans are underway for an information booth to be added at the cemetery entrance to provide visitors access to three maps and an internee list, making it easier to locate family members. Headstones at the end of each row will be numbered like street signs to assist cemetery guests find their loved ones.

The reconstruction at B’nai Israel has unearthed the final resting places for 30 veterans. These graves are now identified and flags and mounts have been placed at the site by the Jewish War Veterans of the USA Post 158, Tidewater.

“The cemetery has come a long way since our family moved to Tidewater seven years ago. Though the vandalism was a horrible incident, it opened our eyes to the need to repair our cemetery. It looks really nice now,” says Goldberg.

Art Sandler supports the effort to restore and care for many local Jewish cemeteries. Sandler says, “The progress of managing and repairing the cemeteries, particularly at B’nai Israel, has really been extraordinary. Security has improved, and broken headstones have been renovated and righted.

“We have such dedicated volunteers, under the leadership of Lt. Commander Goldberg, who are working tirelessly to restore the dignity of this sacred place. Adam’s sons are even heavily involved in the progress of this project.”

Goldberg says that members of the Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation (NSCC) have been valuable assets in the B’nai Israel cemetery restoration. NSCC is a local community organization whose mission is to preserve, protect, and promote Norfolk’s eight historic municipal cemeteries through conversation, education, and advocacy.

“This is an all-encompassing community effort, made possible in part by the foundation grant and federation involvement. So much work has been done to restore the dignity of the cemetery, making it a beautiful, peaceful place that honors the people who are buried there and the families who visit them,” says Sandler.

Sharon Freeman

Photos:
Lt. Commander Adam Goldberg (Ret.)

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