Submitted by Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati

JCGC is a unique burial organization and a national model, performing burials for all denominations and overseeing 23 diverse Jewish cemeteries in our area. The oldest of them, Chestnut Street Cemetery, turned 200 years old last year. The campaign’s goal is to create an investment base strictly for cemetery preservation and maintenance, due to the age of JCGC’s vast and dispersed properties.

The finale of that year-long campaign is set for Sunday afternoon September 10, and it will include, importantly, an expression of appreciation to all donors to that critical cemetery preservation campaign. But it will also be a gala celebration of local history, nearly forgotten. That is because the beautiful physical setting for the closing event is both new and uniquely purposed. Attendance is free and open to the public.

On that day, September 10 from 3 until 5 p.m., Jewish Cemeteries will dedicate and celebrate a just-finished “history park,” Foundations of Our Future. Jewish Cemeteries has created this outdoor installation within the new, still mostly unoccupied Loveland Cemetery. It is clearly a memorial of a sort, but different. It is a small “park” made of curving walls displaying “rescued” historic plaques that once honored past community donors and leaders — people who built and strengthened Cincinnati’s past and present institutions. Some of those institutions have thrived to today, (ie. Jewish Hospital, temples and synagogues) while others are long gone, or absorbed into invisibility. 

Importantly, these marble and brass plaques, some broken, had literally been discarded. Several dozen of them, however, were “rescued,” forgotten for decades in basements — or worse. In the view of Jewish Cemeteries and Cincinnati Judaica Fund, who began to accumulate some plaques, it seemed as if the people named on them were being dishonored and forgotten, in contradiction to Jewish Cemeteries’ mission and Jewish values in general.    

Each “rescued” plaque has a story. One plaque came from a mid-nineteenth century Orthodox synagogue, the site of which is now under a TQL Stadium parking lot. Another became the walls of a homeowner’s shower stall. Another was garden decor for a famous local architect who collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright. Of course, besides being interesting stories, these are sad commentaries of disrespect to values central to most, perhaps especially to Jews: charitable giving and communal leadership. The people named on these “rescued” plaques are the ancestors of Cincinnatians and far-flung Americans living today, who may not yet know the contributions their grandparents and great grandparents made to our area. Monetary donations listed range from $10 to $10,000, amounts that translate far differently today.

Jewish Cemeteries and Cincinnati Judaica Fund named the installation “Foundations of Our Future” because the people named on the plaques were looking to build for the future by giving what they could of their money and energy, just as citizens today must do if community is to be sustained.  There are famous Jewish names (eg. Manischewitz, Seasongood), one famous non-Jewish one (Christian Moerlein), and even a few early Jewish American philanthropists who never set foot in Cincinnati (eg. Judah Touro). Many names ring familiar because their descendants are well-known in Cincinnati today. Others were Jewish U.S. veterans, whose Cincinnati graves are also now marked with flags. Some plaques of the installation also grace a shady pathway between a colonnade of tall pines, interspersed with benches. One piece is the original marble gateway to Cincinnati’s only Sephardic Jewish cemetery, the Jewish Americans interred within originally tracing their immigration history back to the Spanish Inquisition.

Most of the names, though, are very difficult to connect to living local people. For that reason Jewish Cemeteries will be working to slowly collect (via QR code, into a database within the JCGC website) the history of any descendant who might visit this new installation and can help identify names for the community. The goal is to put the most eyes possible on the plaques. How exciting to perhaps learn that one’s ancestor helped establish a synagogue or lead an institution!

Regardless, for every attendant on September 10 there will be “history keepers” on site at the plaque walls from congregations and institutions, to tell viewers more, to elicit stories and to field questions. Jewish Cemeteries has also worked to personally invite as many known descendants of those named as possible, to begin to bring the stories of those ancestors forward.

People who wish to attend the afternoon event September 10 should RSVP or call the Jewish Cemeteries office.