By Dodie Katzenstein
Originally published in the Jewish Independent
Or Shalom Synagogue celebrated a major milestone on Oct. 15 with the dedication of its new cemetery.
In March, after four years of discussions with the City of Vancouver, the synagogue signed an agreement for a small area within Mountain View Cemetery (MVC). The area runs along the west side of Fraser Street extending south from 33rd Avenue.
Rabbi Hannah Dresner noted that the dedication helped “connect our bayit (our home in life) to our beit kavurot (our home in death).”
The ceremony, attended by more than 50 people (and a few dogs), began with a service at the synagogue, followed by a walk along Fraser to MVC. After reciting psalms while circling around the Or Shalom cemetery perimeter seven times to consecrate the area, participants proceeded to a reception at the MVC Celebration Hall.
Or Shalom is affiliated with Aleph, the Jewish Renewal movement, whose core values support efforts to explore and redefine Jewish traditions in ways that are egalitarian and inclusive. Accordingly, the cemetery offers a choice of all-Jewish and interfaith sections, a green section and double burials.
The area contains 64 lots (burial sites). However, Jewish custom allows multiple burials in one grave in locations where land is scarce, such as Jerusalem and Vancouver. Many older Jewish cemeteries in eastern Europe followed this practice. The Or Shalom section permits two people, related or not, to share a lot. Due to the small size of the cemetery, purchases are limited to individuals who have been Or Shalom members for at least five years.
Lots are purchased directly from MVC, which is owned and managed by the City of Vancouver. MVC manager Glen Hodges supported the project from the beginning and Or Shalom member Catherine Berris, a landscape architect with Urban Systems, helped with design.
Referring to Abraham’s purchase of a cave at Machpelah to bury his wife Sarah (Bereishit/Genesis 23) as the “first Jewish cemetery,” Dresner said, “It is beautiful to be buried in community, and this is what we will now be able to provide for one another at Mountain View: community in death.”
Dodie Katzenstein is a member of Or Shalom and a founding member of the cemetery planning committee.