The Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association of Greater Pittsburgh has had a tremendous run over the past few years.
Formed in 1992 from the merger of the United Jewish Federation Cemetery Association and the Hebrew Burial Association of Pittsburgh, the JCBA found its footing after the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh decided in 2015 to tackle the issue of the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in the region. – especially when families and congregations in these cemeteries have faded into the past.
“The planning was thorough,” said Shelly Parver, the Federation’s deputy planning director and key player in the transition work with the JCBA. “There was also a pretty steep learning curve, given the scale of the problem.”
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With “dozens and dozens” of small Jewish cemeteries throughout the region, the JCBA and the Federation had a big task ahead of them, Parver said. In 2017 they had a plan in place and in 2019 they lined up most of the funding. Since then, the JCBA has grown from managing 11 cemeteries to administering or assisting in the administration of approximately 30.
“Our charge was really to think about the whole future, the long-term health of these cemeteries,” Parver added. “This is an example of the Federation’s best planning work. We made the plan and we carried it out. The success of the JCBA in recent years is immense, much better than I expected.
Barry Rudel, executive director of the JCBA, has become a strong advocate for Jewish cemeteries, some of which are going through difficult times.
“The community’s mission to redesign the JCBA into a thriving, stable and strong funeral association after two years is working,” Rudel said. “Most importantly, the long-delayed maintenance of many cemeteries has been and will continue to be resolved.”
Rudel pointed out that the “significant initial funding” of the Federation has been widely used.
“We have now increased that funding fivefold,” he said.
The latest achievement of the JCBA? Its board of trustees recently approved funds for restoration work and continued maintenance of the cemetery dating to around 1873 for the Tree of Life congregation in Sharpsburg, Rudel said.
In 2021, the four Jewish cemeteries in Johnstown – Ahavath Achim, Rodef Sholom, Beth Zion and Israel Isaiah – were turned over to the JCBA. They were joined in 2022 by the Kether Torah cemetery in the reserve township.
The JCBA website reveals stories from each cemetery, including photos of repaired gates and trimmed trees. Rudel, although modest, is proud of the work accomplished by his group.
“We are here for the community,” he said. “And we are grateful for the way they treat these cemeteries.”
Louis Kushner has also been involved in the Federation’s work with the JCBA — he is delighted with the result.
“It turned out better than I think anyone could have imagined,” Kushner told the Chronicle. “We had the full support of the Federation and its staff. We have hired an excellent general manager. It’s going remarkably well. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.