Resting in Dignity: Friends of Jewish Cemeteries Begin Work to Restore At-Risk Cemeteries

Friends of Jewish Cemeteries’ first effort to preserve at-risk local cemeteries is now underway and offering opportunities for genealogy hobbyists and everyone. Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

The Philadelphia area has numerous historic Jewish cemeteries, but this beautiful testament to Judaism’s deep local roots is often met with poor conditions: broken or fallen stones, uneven and unsafe ground, illegible inscriptions, and other damage.

How to viably restore and protect these sacred places into the future is a challenge debated by communities of all faiths, all over the country. A group of local Jewish volunteers decided to join forces and find an answer. Earlier this year, they created the Friends of Jewish Cemeteries (FJC), a special initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, to explore realistic strategies for improving poor conditions at mature properties, particularly in the oldest sections. While community clean-ups are invaluable, professional skills and equipment are necessary for extensively damaged areas.

“When neighbors and friends reached out because of the poor conditions at Har Nebo Cemetery in Oxford Circle, we knew we had to do better,” said State Rep. Jared G. Solomon, 202nd district of Philadelphia County, and a FJC advocate. “With the Jewish Federation and Friends of Jewish Cemeteries leading the charge, we as a community hope to chart a new course for how communities can repair, rebuild, and reimagine Jewish cemeteries throughout our region.”

In tackling this grand-scale restoration problem, FJC decided to focus first on Har Nebo, Philadelphia’s oldest privately-owned Jewish cemetery and one of the city’s largest. Through this pilot project, FJC will fund, secure and oversee expert-level rehabilitation of a section of graves representing the most common problems found in cemeteries in disrepair. At its conclusion, the group will produce a multimedia how-to guide, documenting its lessons learned that could serve as a model for other groups.

Work is set to begin in the fall of 2021 and will include lifting and repairing headstones, clearing undergrowth and reinforcing the surrounding ground.

A specific section of the cemetery has been selected for restoration, and now FJC needs experienced genealogy hobbyists to help find their descendants. Walter Spector, a volunteer genealogist, is supporting the effort and hopes members of the community with research experience will join him in the work. There are also a variety of other on-site and in-home volunteer opportunities, such as assistance with fundraising, securing landscaping and stone repair supplies, publicity, and production of the guide.

“The popularity of genealogy research has brought newfound attention to historic and mature cemeteries as well as the escalating problems in many of them,” said Rich Blumberg, leader of FJC. “When you talk with others who share these concerns about sustaining our legacy, the task often seems beyond our reach. The goal of FJC and its pilot project is to challenge that notion.”

Those interested in learning more about genealogy research, saving historic cemeteries and honoring those at rest will have an opportunity to help clean up Har Nebo during a service day, sponsored by the Jewish Federation, on Sunday, October 17, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. Volunteers will rake leaves, clip vines, pick up debris and participate in a memorial service for those interred at the historic site.

FJC’s pilot project goals include raising ongoing funds for further work at other area cemeteries, but Blumberg hopes that its success will extend far beyond that: “We want to raise awareness of the conservation needs of these special places, offer a pragmatic path to success and inspire others to join us.”

For more information about FJC and involvement opportunities, visit or contact Addie Klein, [email protected]. To register for the cleanup day at Har Nebo on Oct. 17, visit

Help FJC find a descendant of these people – or is that you?

The following graves are in the section of Har Nebo that will be professionally restored.  FJC wants to find relatives and make them aware of this special project. Direct descendants can also choose not to have a headstone reset.

Isadore Bennett; D.O.D. Jan. 30, 1921

Mollie Bennett; D.O.D. Nov. 11, 1918

Anna Berman (1861-1931)

Nathan Berman (1854-1913)

Harry Chertok; D.O.D. May 23, 1924

Abraham Ginsburg; D.O.D. June 27, 1920

Jacob Krantz; D.O.D. August 19, 1920

Chaya Sara Patelson; D.O.D. March 3, 1936

Ya’akov Patelson; D.O.D. February 11, 1931

Yechezkel Spritzler; D.O.D. December 2, 1924

Morris Yuter; D.O.D. July 24, 1924

The following headstones may also be repaired, based on available funds and location:

Harry Averich; D.O.D. December 27, 1919

Josey Barbash; D.O.D. March 7, 1898

Chane Brooks; D.O.D. March 5, 1917

Emma Burcharesky; D.O.D. January 3, 1918

Fannie Fisher; D.O.D. September 25, 1932

Louis Fisher; D.O.D. April 8, 1926

Maurice Fishman; D.O.D. December 13, 1918

Jennie Gallant; D.O.D. January 6, 1915

Avraham Ginsberg; D.O.D. June 28, 1920

Pepy Gluck; D.O.D. October 30, 1990

Baby Kemp; D.O.D. June 4, 1897

Bella Kornig; D.O.D. August 23, 1898

Rose Krantz; D.O.D. February 9, 1933

Elizabeth Kulla; D.O.D. September 17, 1922

Birdie Lehrfeldt; D.O.D. June 11, 1897

Hessie Lehrfeldt; D.O.D. June 16, 1897

Rosa Lehrfeldt; D.O.D. June 9, 1897

Annie Mirkin; D.O.D. November 1, 1920

Jennie Polienich; D.O.D. January 17, 1922

Jacob Rosenberg; D.O.D. February 28, 1936

Dora Rubin; D.O.D. April 25, 1923

Samuel Rubin; D.O.D. March 16, 1975

Aaron Sattin; D.O.D. October 23, 1924

Sarah Seltzer; D.O.D. October 11, 1918

Rosena Spritzler; D.O.D. January 28, 1914

Abraham Weiner; D.O.D. December 6, 1923

Frieda Weisen; D.O.D. July 7, 1896

Harry Wiener; D.O.D. November 4, 1908

If you have experience doing genealogy research and can help or if you are a possible descendant, please contact Rich Blumberg, [email protected]

*D.O.D. means Date of Death


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