Federation Report: Caring services during times of need

 By John Diener and Brent Taylor, Co-Chairs

Jewish Memorial Gardens

Jewish Memorial Gardens (JMG) operates the two community-owned cemeteries, the original Bank Street location, established in the 1890s, and on Herberts Corners Road in Greely, purchased in 1976. Combined, JMG is where more than 5,000 members of our families and friends were laid to rest. Approximately 75 burials are conducted annually.

Both cemeteries are divided into sections, each one associated with either a current or historic synagogue. Originally, the synagogues owned and ran their own sections, but that was no longer workable, so in 2008, the ownership of the properties was transferred to JMG. A Board of Directors runs JMG, and is made up of members from each of the founding synagogues, as well as representatives appointed by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. The Board is tasked with handling all aspects of day-to-day operation, maintenance, and finance, while the synagogues maintain halachic control over the sections that they previously owned. As the synagogues were the original owners of the properties, synagogue membership is required to purchase interment rights. However, measures have been put in place to secure a special “time of need” membership when necessary. We also have policies in place to ensure that those who do not have the resources to pay for interment rights and burial costs for a deceased family member are accommodated.

In June 2019, Jonathan Freedman, chair of JMG since 2012, stepped down and we became co-chairs. Brent chaired the multi-million dollar revitalization of the Bank Street cemetery that took place five years ago, and has continued to be hands-on in all aspects of landscaping, maintenance, and day-to-day operation of the properties. John served as treasurer for a decade, and had dealt with and continues to work with finance, accounting, day-to-day issues, and compliance with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario. Together, we work in partnership with a group of dedicated volunteers and one paid employee, Executive Director Tammy Torontow.

Dealing with death is very painful and stressful for families, and Tammy collaborates with the synagogues, rabbis, Chevra Kadisha, funeral homes, and our wonderful grounds-keeping contractor to make the experience as easy as possible. Together, they all do whatever they can to get families through the ordeal in a dignified fashion, while respecting our Jewish tradition and halachah.

We have challenges moving forward. Like all organizations, JMG has to be financially sustainable. The sale of flowers that we plant annually on gravesites is a major income source and families are encouraged to participate. Flower sales both help with our bottom line and are an excellent way to beautify the cemeteries while honouring the memories of our loved ones.

JMG also realizes that the needs of the community have changed. There are new groups within the community that will have to be accommodated, whether they be small congregations, mixed marriage couples, or unaffiliated Ottawa Jews who wish to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The Board is working on developing both short-term and long-term plans to deal with shifting needs.

Finally, both cemeteries are peaceful, beautifully landscaped places to visit, reflect and remember family and friends. JMG’s goal is to continue to provide caring, compassionate services to the community during times of need.

Visit www.jewishmemorialgardens.org or call Tammy Torontow at 613-688-3530 for more information.