I have officiated at countless funerals here on the Treasure Coast, but during my tenure here I have never followed up on my research from my thesis. Mississippi and Louisiana are far away. Our congregation has had other needs from toddlers to teens to empty nesters. I have been teaching students, visiting the sick, being present in the community. Over the last few years I have been in contact with Jerry Morton who is the chair of the Beth El Cemetery in Fort Pierce. This cemetery is one of two Jewish burial places in the area that our congregation uses. Originally it was managed by the Beth El Congregation (which merged with another St. Lucie congregation to become Beth El-Israel). Recently, with changes in laws ,the committee overseeing the cemetery decided to create a separate legal entity for the continued care of the cemetery. Like many institutions in our community, Beth El Cemetery suffers from age and retirement. It might not be in the way you would think. The demographics of our community skew to a more sage population. Also, many of us are not native, instead moving to the Treasure Coast from other areas. These two factors affect the cemetery greatly. First, many of us have burial places or home communities away from Florida. If one does not have a loved one buried in the cemetery or a burial plot there, the chances that one feels connected to the cemetery and its maintenance are lowered. Because so many are older when they arrive, even as people have gotten involved in the Cemetery committee, the group is constricted by members getting sick, disabled and even passing away. Jerry has been reaching out to bring folks from Beth Shalom, to support the group from Beth El-Israel who have been caring for the cemetery.
I wanted to do more than make that appeal for help. While I have not worked on my thesis material in many years, its lessons certainly have stayed with me. The cemetery plays a crucial role in the life of a Jewish community. It is often one of the first Jewish institutions to come into existence. It holds incredible value to the history of the community. The cemetery
is more than a place of burial. It is a place of story, love and loss. I know some of the families who have loved ones buried there. I know when it was incorporated. I know some of the stories about its care; times when its care was neglected and times when renewed effort made it the place of beauty it is today. It is not just a cemetery, but our cemetery. Even if our loved ones are not buried there, the founders of our Jewish community, those who have lived as part of our community and made it the place of vitality and caring are buried there. I reach out to our congregation with twin goals: I need some to help me learn and record its history, the stories of those who are there. I also need folks to join with the Blocks, the Bergs and Schwartz’s in the efforts of the Cemetery Board to ensure that it is cared for in perpetuity.
We have a sacred story to preserve and share. We have a sanctified ground to maintain. Help us weave this thread of life and memory into the fabric of our Jewish community.