New Haven, CT – The gravestones on Jewell Street go back to 1856, but for years some of them have been neglected. Tombstones have toppled and groundhogs have moved in. With a new database of cemetery plots, Eli Greer is poised to perform an “act of true kindness” for those buried there.
That’s “chesed shel emes” in Hebrew. Greer mentioned the term Thursday before a press conference recognizing cemetery improvements.
Mayor John DeStefano and State Rep. Pat Dillon were on hand at the press conference to celebrate the new sidewalks and new trees on Jewell Street, where 15 different Jewish cemeteries lie.
Those who have passed on cannot thank the living for taking care of their graves, Greer explained. It’s an act of chesed shel emes to take care of them.
To ensure they are remembered, Greer and other volunteers have created a comprehensive database of information on all cemetery plots. It’s searchable online and includes plot-by-plot maps of each cemetery. Greer worked with the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven and and the Jewish cemetery association to make it happen.
More work remains to be done. The cemeteries have fallen headstones, groundhog holes, broken fences, invasive trees, and obscured footstones. Greer is now collecting donations to fix all of those problems, which he estimated will cost as much as $18,000.
On Thursday Greer offered a quick tour of the cemeteries. The greater New Haven area holds 44 Jewish cemeteries. The 15 on Jewell Street are “the heart,” Greer said. Each represents a different lodge or synagogue, some of which no longer exist.
The graves hold eight generations of New Haven Jews, he said.
Before stepping through the gates of one, he tucked in his tzitzis, the fringed end of his tallis katan. The action was a sign of respect to the people in the cemetery, who can no longer obey the commandment to wear the tallis, Greer said.