Jewish Cemeteries: How does the halakhah apply today?

Yom Iyun JC & Burial NJAlthough the sunlight outside was enticing, about forty congregants turned out for our Yom Iyun on Jewish Cemeteries and Burial of Non-Jews. Rabbi Harry presented the relevant halakhah using an historical approach. Those present listened attentively and responded with thoughtful questions and comments.

The Rabbi said that he would issue a formal response to this question by January 2018 when there would be a congregational meeting to consider the matter. Those present understood that any decision to change the current burial rules would require various policy/by-law decisions by the congregation.

Special Tree Replanting Ceremony

Sunday morning, March 5th, 2017 was cold and cloudy
with scattered showers. Just before a caravan of cars bringing the older Hebrew
School students, teachers, and some parents arrived at the gates of the Jewish
Cemetery on Cedar Hill Road, small patches of blue sky appeared. The group had
come for a special tree replanting ceremony in honor of Yitzhak Rabin.

In 1996, the Hebrew School’s celebration of Tu BiShvat took on a
different tone. It had only been a few months since Rabin was shot and killed
by a right wing Jewish extremist. Congregation Emanuel Hebrew School decided to
plant a bush in the Jewish Cemetery as a memorial to the fallen Prime Minister
of Israel. Leah Levi, School Coordinator, carefully selected a tree which could
grow in Israel. After a short ceremony at the Synagogue, the Hebrew School
gathered at the Jewish Cemetery, the bush was planted in the garden beside the
Holocaust Memorial and a plaque quoting President Bill Clinton’s farewell
declaration at Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral, “Shalom
 (“Goodbye, Friend”) was unveiled.

Over the years, changes were made to the Holocaust Memorial. A
ramp was installed where the garden once grew. Later, the plant for Yitzhak
Rabin, which never thrived, was eaten by the resident deer. All that
remained was the commemoration plaque. 

Around Tu BiShvat 2017, Amber Woods was in the Jewish Cemetery
doing research. While conversing with the caretaker Geoffrey Perkins she
learned he was troubled by the disappearance of the memorial tree and wondered
if it could be replaced. Amber contacted Leah. Greatly moved to learn that
there were people who cared about the bush, Leah decided to hold a rededication
ceremony and to plant another, hopefully more deer resistant, shrub—a Fragrant
Mountain (Hymalian) Silverbox was chosen.

As the sun peaked out from the clouds, about 30 people including
Leah Levi, a number of parents, students at the Hebrew School, Amber Woods and
Geoffrey Perkins gathered beside the Holocaust Memorial. The ceremony (as was
done 22 years ago) included singing songs of peace and hearing a biography of
Yitzhak Rabin, followed by Geoffrey placing the Hymalian Silverbox into the
prepared spot. The opportunity to place a shovelful of earth was given to those
assembled. Geoffrey completed the planting and the ceremony was concluded with
the singing of Hatikvah.

Leah Levi and Amber Woods

Presentation: The Jewish Cemetery in Victoria 1859–2016

Monday, January 23, 2017 at 7:30 pm


A public presentation entitled The Jewish Cemetery in Victoria 1859–2016 is scheduled for Monday, January 23, 2017 at 7:30 pm
at the Congregation Emanu-El, 1461 Blanshard Street in Victoria. 

members and friends of the Congregation Emanu-El, the Old Cemeteries Society
and students and faculty from the University of Victoria for an evening
discussion on current research being done in and about Canada’s oldest Jewish
cemetery. Each of the students will present their findings after a summer
working at the cemetery. Congregation members are encouraged to come out to
support the students and learn about the activities at the Jewish Cemetery.

The Simcha Gift Shop will be open at
6:30 pm for shopping before the program at 7:00 pm.

Sacred Sites: Dishonour & Healing

Sunday, January 17, 7:00 pm—a Public History Event


Congregation Emanu-El, the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island, the UVic History Department and I Witness Field School, will jointly host an event at the synagogue on Sunday, January 17 at 7:00 pm to announce the launch of Sacred Sites: Dishonour And Healing—an online exhibit at the Jewish Museum & Archives of BC about the 2011 desecration of Jewish graves in Victoria and the response that it engendered.


This online exhibit investigates the 2011 desecration of
Victoria’s historic Jewish cemetery and the outstanding community response it
engendered. An engaging multi-media exhibit, Sacred Sites affirms the
importance of the Jewish cemetery in Victoria, explains individual reactions to
and actions against racism, and traces the connections between these local
events and the broader contestation of sacred spaces in British Columbia and

When Congregation Emanu-El members organized a vigil to
stand against the anti-Semitic violence, they were surprised and reassured by
over a thousand Victorians who attended the event. As students enrolled in
University of Victoria’s Public History graduate seminar, Alissa Cartwright and
Kaitlin Findlay partnered with the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC to create
this online exhibit about the desecration and the community’s response to it. Cartwright
and Findlay were tasked with investigating the roots of the local response and
comparing it to other communal reactions to acts of desecration. They conducted
oral history interviews with congregants and other individuals who attended the
vigil, as well as museum professionals and historians and used the exhibit to
situate the desecration and the vigil in broad theoretical and comparative
contexts. Their outstanding exhibit is an example of history in action.