The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has established a Friends of Jewish Cemeteries group to learn about issues seen at older cemeteries.
One such cemetery is Har Nebo, a 28-acre facility at 6061 Oxford Ave. that is home to about 34,000 people.
An Oct. 17 cleanup at Har Nebo revealed some of the challenges facing old cemeteries.
Sisters Jane Bender and Marci Green attended the cleanup, sponsored by the Jewish Federation. They saw that the memorial stone of their great-grandfather, Oscar Loeb, was leaning so much that it was resting against the footstone of another grave.
In a remarkable coincidence, they met for the first time a second cousin and Loeb descendant, Barbara Levine, and a third cousin, Jeremy Rothman, a great-great-nephew of Loeb.
Gravesites at Har Nebo and some other Jewish cemeteries are plagued with a lack of maintenance, deterioration over time, weather-related issues and occasional vandalism.
The Jewish Federation is acting, in part, due to the recent interest in genealogy that is leading many Philadelphia-area residents to visit their ancestors’ graves, often for the first time. While there, families are noticing problems.
As many cemeteries are nearly full and not selling new plots, maintenance becomes a challenge due to a lack of funds. Grass sometimes becomes overgrown. Another challenge is that when graves settle, the ground becomes uneven, and monuments eventually fall.
Friends of Jewish Cemeteries removes debris and tends to other needs. The recent cleanup at Har Nebo attracted some 400 volunteers who removed weeds and ivy that had grown over and between dozens of monuments.
Jewish Federation also hired cemetery preservation specialist Joe Ferrannini, owner of Hoosick Falls, New York-based Grave Stone Matters, to work at Har Nebo from Oct. 31 to Nov. 7, restoring more than 30 tombstones.
One of those tombstones belongs to Loeb, who died in 1946 at age 78. Born in Romania, he came to the United States in 1900. He worked as a tinsmith and lived in Queen Village.
Bender, Green, Levine, Rothman and Bruce Fagan (a first cousin of Bender and Green) were at Har Nebo on Nov. 4 to watch Ferrannini reset their ancestor’s headstone.
Ferrannini explained that the headstone weighs 1,269 pounds. The weight of it, along with adhesive putty on the footstone base, will allow the grave to remain in place. ••