Hidden Jewish Cemeteries

August 6th, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

hahmabel.jpgAn eye-opening walk means I’ll never think of Toys R Us and Super Stop & Shop the same. At the West Roxbury/Dedham line I strolled into an amazing maze of Jewish cemeteries.

I had an hour and nine minutes to fill on Spring Street in WR. The map showed Hand & Hand Cemetery. Burying grounds are an avocation, so I walked Spring to Baker to Centre. Wowsers, the entry at the Temple Mishkan Tefila Memorial Park was just the loose strand on the ball of yarn.

There were nearly two centuries of graves there. Some stones, like that sweet, floral one for the young girl Mabel could be in any goy graveyard in New England. Others were in Hebrew or had Jewish-specific symbols.

Oddly to me, accustomed to Forest Hills, St. Michael and Mt. Hope in my neighborhood, this turns out to be a grouping of 13 separate cemeteries. They largely belong to particular temples, each with its own area. As you pass from one to another, a subtle stone or a chain link fences easy to pass delineate the boundary of each.

The map with the 13 sections is here at the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts.  Boy, was I ignorant. I learned that there are 209 Jewish Cemeteries in the commonwealth, of which JCAM operates 101.

Pic Trick: Click a thumbnail for a little larger view. It opens in the same window, so use your back button to return.

hahrose.jpgSome of the 20th Century stones use standard, old-fashioned iconography. For example, Rose Kowinski’s has a fairly traditional use of a broken tree. This, of course, symbolizes life cut short.

Rose was only 17 when she died in 1920.

This is not the usual tree used in such carving and probably indicates a European stone worker instead of the WASPy or Irish sort.

hahflow.jpgAn older stone is in Hebrew shows a rarer symbol, a vase or urn pouring liquid. This symbolizes life leaving the body. I know very little Hebrew and do not understand the age or name of the deceased. However, iconography conventions use this type of symbolism for someone who has lived a full live, and not a child or young adult.

A totally different symbolism and one more generally seen in Christian cemeteries is on the stone of Rosa, who died at the end of the 19th Century. Originally, this suggested the passage from one form of life to another — typically with the implication of resurrection.


However, it also became popular in Germany, the rest of eastern Europe and elsewhere.  The stage-curtain tassels generally are included. The motif seems to have come to stand more for the end of the play. Also, in this case, it is easy to project that a woman then at 54 may well have been a grandmother and taken to wrapping herself in a shaw, replete with tassels. There’s much possible here.

A particularly Jewish stone with two hands would stand out at Forest Hills, and not just because it has Hebrew inscriptions. It seems to show the Vulcan salute from the Star Trek shows.


Old fans will recall that Spock (played by Leonard Nemoy) introduced the raised hand with pinkie and ring finger together, and middle and forefinger together. Vulcans and their kin used this in the TV shows and movie.

Nemoy, who was a Jew from Boston’s West End, created this salute to enhance  his character. As he tells it, he simply adapted it, adding the live-long-and-prosper greeting, from his own childhood religious memories. The kohanim, those priests descended from the first high priest, Aaron, use a two-handed version in their blessings.

In Hebrew the two hands in this position represent the first letter of the word for the Almighty. It is a powerful blessing indeed, and well suitable for a tombstone.

As I visited each of the 13 areas, I came over a small rise and down to a plain. It was only then that I realized I was behind the Dedham Racquet Club, Super Stop & Shop and Toys R Us. I have shopped on the other side of Hand & Hand for many years without realizing there is a necropolis there.


2 Responses

  1. adamg says:

    I was pretty surprised the first time I ran across a Jewish cemetery in West Roxbury too. There are also a bunch just off Washington and Grove streets as well.

    It makes sense – back in the early 1900s, when all the workmen’s circles and whatnot were looking for a place to bury members, where was land cheap? On the outskirts of the city. Still, it’s kind of interesting to see so many Jewish cemeteries in West Roxbury.

    Hmm, I wonder if there are any old German cemeteries, down by the Deutsches Altenheim?

  2. Harrumpher says:

    It looks like Baker Street, real close, has the professional and union groups as well as congregations. Grove Street, also close, represents a ton of congregations. There’s lots to be seen.

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