Jewish Memorial Gardens held an open house and donor recognition ceremony, September 25, to unveil the extensive renovations and improvements to the venerable Bank Street Cemetery.
“I’ve done community work for over 70 years, and this is the most gratifying,” said Norman Zagerman, who joined Sol Shabinsky and Roger Greenberg in laying a wreath at the granite monument engraved with the names of all of the Jewish men from Ottawa who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars, and in defence of the State of Israel.
“My first impression is really positive,” said Anna Bilsky, whose great-grandparents are buried in the cemetery. “There’s so much parking, and a large gathering area. It’s wonderful.”
“Caring for the dead with dignity and compassion” is a critical part of the Jewish lifecycle, said Jonathan Ben-Choreen Freedman, chair of Jewish Memorial Gardens. “I have the luck to walk in the footsteps of giants. Leaders such as Is Shinder, Myer Alvo and Norman Potechin dreamed for years of this moment … Brent Taylor stepping forth with his family’s gift was the instigator for this project.”
“It’s a community project,” said Taylor, chair of the revitalization project. “It takes everybody to do their part for a project like this to happen.”
Taylor noted the commitment of his parents, Ethel and Irving Taylor, “transcended even death, as they had the foresight to designate money in their wills to be donated to a worthy cause. My parents believed in leading by example and hoped that their gift would inspire others to do the same for the benefit of future generations.”
The Bank Street Cemetery was established in 1892. The massive renovation and revitalization project – at a cost of nearly $4 million – includes a new road and entrance, a new parking lot and washrooms, a reflective garden and military memorial, a relocated and enhanced Holocaust Memorial, a commemorative reception area, a wayfinding system, and a restored historical archway.
“All those things came with their own complications,” said Taylor. “For instance, we had to tunnel under Bank Street in order to have washrooms and water.” It took three months to clear the forest.
The project was completed “on time and on budget,” said Taylor. “The cemetery is now more functional, more welcoming, more honouring … This is an important moment in time.”
Rabbi Reuven Bulka said he couldn’t “remember any other fundraising project in Ottawa with such unanimity of involvement … It was such a transformation that people coming here didn’t recognize it.”
Close to $6 million was raised for the Bank Street Cemetery revitalization and renovation project. The approximately $2 million over and above the cost of the work has been invested to ensure the maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery for generations to come.