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Lynn Roseman, coordinator of the Jewish Heritage Centre Cemetery Photograph Project



By Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng.

Lynn Roseman has been instrumental in coordinating the Jewish Heritage Centre’ s Cemetery Photography Project, which has become one of the most used resources at the Centre. The goal of this ambitious undertaking was to photograph every Jewish gravestone in Manitoba, record the information on them, and create a database for research and/or display.

This ambitious 15 year project involving hundreds of volunteer hours is one that appears to be unequalled by any other project of its kind.

Jewish CemetaryThe Jewish cemetery project began in earnest in 1996 with over 30 volunteers and government and private funding. One database was created from fragmented records found at various locations. Those records were verified and each gravestone was photographed with camera and film. The result was 54 binders of 15,000 colour photographs and a database searchable by last name.

With the advent of the digital camera, the project evolved into retaking all the photos digitally (now totaling 18,000) with only 10 volunteers and no funding in 2008. Now, the database is searchable by surname, death date, or section/row/plot. From 700 previously unmarked graves, today there remains only 100 unidentified graves.

Jewish CemetaryOn February 8, 2010, Lynn Roseman  presented a lecture on the project sponsored by the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada to an audience of  about 30 people.

As Roseman explained, there are 9 Jewish cemeteries in Manitoba, 6 of those located in Winnipeg: B’nay Abraham Cemetery, Children of Israel Cemetery in Transcona, Hebrew Sick Benefit Cemetery, Rosh Pina Memorial Park, Shaarey Zedek Cemetery, and Temple Shalom. There is also  the   Bender Hamlet Cemetery in the abandoned settlement of Bender Hamlet, B’nai Israel Cemetery in Brandon, and Morden Jewish Cemetery in Morden.
“Jewish cemeteries are unique”, reported Roseman. “Most are enclosed by a fence and have a secure gate. Bender Hamlet is surrounded by a concrete wall. Part of Morden Cemetery is bordered by a hedge. Temple Shalom has no enclosure. Tombstones are customary, but not obligatory.”

Jewish CemetaryRoseman also noted that, “More than just people are buried in Jewish cemeteries.  Religious books and other items no longer usable are buried in unmarked plots in Hebrew Sick and B’nay Abraham. At Shaarey Zedek, these items are buried beneath caskets as the need arises.”

In Jewish cemeteries, the rows always run North-South so that the front face of gravestones may face East, toward Jerusalem. Some cemeteries have sections where men and women are separated. Now, all cemeteries allow for husband and wife to be buried side-by-side. At Shaarey Zedek, a wife is buried to the right of her husband. At Hebrew Sick, a woman is never buried next to a man who is not her husband, father, or brother.

Jewish CemetaryAs Roseman outlined, there are many symbols found on Jewish gravestones: a Star of David means Jewish; a Star of David with barbed wire represents a Holocaust survivor; two hands means a Cohen; a pitcher means Levite; a broken branch, tree, candle or flower means a life cut short; a flame, bird or menorah means eternal life; a lamb means innocence; an open book or torah scroll means husband and wife; a closed book or scroll means that the person was part of a family; and joined columns mean “together in life, separated by death, and together again for eternity”. Lee Saidman, the infamous “Sam the Camera Man”, has a gravestone in the shape of a camera with a laser engraved photograph.

Jewish CemetarySecular symbols can also be found on Jewish gravestones. An interest in music may be symbolized by musical notes or a treble clef. An artistic ability may be represented by an unusually shaped stone. A love for the outdoors may be shown by a particular stone selection.

Jewish law requires burial in the ground. The grave should be at least two cubits deep. This means that a mausoleum is permissible only if the deceased is buried in the ground itself, and the mausoleum is built above it.

Jewish CemetaryAccording to Roseman, Shaarey Zedek has the only Jewish mausoleums in North America which house the remains of two Rabbis, above ground.  Both rabbis passed away prior to 1950 and earth and/or pottery was placed in the casket such that there was contact with the soil.

In the B’nay Abraham in Brandon, there are concrete tent-like coverings on some graves. The Hebrew Sick and the Shaarey Zedek have cenotaphs to honour fallen soldiers.

Unfortunately Manitoba Jewish cemeteries have experienced their fair share of vandalism. In August 1999, over 100 gravestones at Hebrew Sick were damaged, 33 of them were completely destroyed. The photographs that Roseman and her team captured before that date led to the conviction of the vandals and the correct placement of replacement stones. In 1933 at Children of Israel, 63 tombstones were toppled; in 1968 at Shaarey Zedek, 108 tombstones were damaged; and again in 1993 at the same location, 78 tombstones were destroyed.

“The project brought about positive changes to the cemeteries. A greater importance is now placed on well manicured and flowered grounds, markers have been put on previously unmarked graves, and benches were placed for visitors to rest. These changes reflect a growing pride in our community and an increasing respect for our past,” Roseman conveyed.

Roseman concluded by saying , “The Jewish cemetery project was well worth the time and effort put in by so many. Now, we know a little information about every Jewish family in Manitoba.”

Rhonda Prepes Rhonda Prepes is an engineer, educator, mother, and writer in Winnipeg.


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