February 1, 2006: Local News

Neveh Shalom sets 1st national cemetery conference


HARLEY FELSTEIN & LEONARD BARDE

Portland will host the first-ever North American Jewish Cemetery Conference in conjunction with the fourth annual North American Chevra Kadisha Conference June 11-13.

The joint conference will be sponsored by Kavod v'Nichum, an organization providing assistance and education in Jewish funeral practice for groups in the United States and Canada, and Portland's Congregation Neveh Shalom, with support from the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.

Designed for professionals and lay leaders, the cemetery conference will address cemetery issues such as ownership and management, starting a new cemetery, perpetual care, setting and enforcing cemetery rules, book burial, green burial, funeral logistics, computerizing monument pictures and burial records to facilitate genealogy research, disaster management and a host of other topics.

As in past years, the chevra kadisha portion of the program will focus on organizing a chevra kadisha (burial society), beginning and advanced training for tahara (ritual cleansing of the dead), text study, historical analysis and networking.

Registration options include $300 for the full conference (with reservations by Feb. 28), or ala carte registration for local participants.

The cemetery conference was the brain child of Leonard Barde, who has chaired Congregation Neveh Shalom's cemetery committee for most of this millennium. Having overseen the upkeep and operations of Neveh Shalom's two cemeteries Ahavai Sholom and Neveh Zedek since July 2000, Barde said he thought it would be useful to get together with other synagogues to discuss cemetery issues.

"The original thought," said Barde, "was to get together with West Coast congregations to discuss the care and maintenance of cemeteries and the problems thereof. When (member services director) Michelle Caplan went to (last year's) chevra kadisha conference, they were so excited they wanted to work with us. It's evolved into a much larger and more in-depth program."

Caplan said during the Chevra Kadisha conference last June, she casually mentioned the idea for a cemetery gathering and got an overwhelming response and a request to combine such a gathering with the annual chevra kaddisha conference held every June.

Neveh Shalom Executive Director Fred Rothstein said the Neveh Shalom board supported the idea of hosting the conference, despite the financial risks inherent in such a broad undertaking.

"As we discussed issues and concerns of our own in the operation of two cemeteries, we decided there was much to be taught and learned in the context of a conference regarding financial, administrative and policy—including religious—issues," said Rothstein.

Barde recruited fellow Neveh Shalom member Harley Felstein, who admits to "a little bit of expertise in the care and maintenance of cemeteries," to serve as conference chair. Prior to moving to Portland, Felstein spent 34 years as the professional administrator of Schara Tzedek, a Jewish cemetery in Vancouver, Canada.

Felstein praised Barde for his foresight and for his dedication to the perpetuity of Jewish cemeteries in Portland.

"There are no words to describe the level of Leonard's commitment and dedication," said Rothstein. "He understands the commitment of the congregation to manage its cemeteries so they will in fact be there in perpetuity for families and their descendents. It's an issue of respect and he gets it."

Caplan, the staff liaison to the cemetery committee, said that Barde phones her almost daily to discuss cemetery issues.

"He is out at both cemeteries almost every day checking on little things—such as a damaged stone—and big things like the remodeling of the chapel," said Caplan. "He is at almost every funeral and unveiling to be sure everything is under control. … He knows the cemetery budget inside out."

With such a breadth of experience in the cemeteries, Barde is well versed in potential topics for the cemetery conference. He said he is looking forward to networking with others facing similar issues.

Session topics and presenters are still being organized, though Rabbi Elliot Dorf has been secured as the scholar-in-residence for the conference. Dorff is the Rector and professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He is a prolific author on topics of Jewish law and ethics.

Conference registration information is available online at www.jewish-funerals.org, click on the conference link. Conference sessions will meet at the Hilton Hotel. Early registration and hotel bookings are suggested since the conference falls during Portland's Rose Festival. For more conference information, contact Caplan at 503-246-8831, ext. 114 or mcaplan@nevehshalom.org.

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