June 13th, 2021, marked the Rededication of the B’rith Kodesh plot in Mount Hope Cemetery. This joyous occasion marked the completion of the 3-year FOMH project to restore this sacred section. All gravestones were repaired, a fence was erected around the plot, a tree was planted, a cradle grave adopted, and a handrail installed. This work was financed by funds from the FOMH, and grants from Ames Amzalak and the Farash Foundation. We are most grateful for these local grants.
The ceremony opened with a prayer and closed with a blessing from Rabbi Peter Stein of B’rith Kodesh, followed by a musical selection sung by Keri Burger, cantorial soloist from B’rith Kodesh. Joel Elliot discussed the history of the B’rith Kodesh plot. Patricia Corcoran, Friends of Mount Hope President, welcomed the visitors and explained the restoration efforts that were now complete. She emphasized the long-term commitment of the Friends to maintain this plot in its current pristine condition. Dennis Carr gave a history of the Friends’ involvement with other Jewish projects at Mount Hope.
The highlight of the ceremony was a tribute to Earl Gurell, long-time volunteer and trustee of the FOMH. Earl is the person who initially “discovered” this plot along with the nearby Jewish Poor Lot in 2005 during a mitzvah day. He researched this plot and was able to list all the people buried in this plot as well as in the Jewish Poor Lot. Earl has always been an advocate for projects serving the Jewish community. The FOMH Board planted a tree in his honor. A plaque was erected so that people would always remember Earl’s commitment to the FOMH and to the Jewish community.
Valerie O’Hara, chair of the planning committee, honored Earl’s work, as he sat surrounded by his three children, his wife Rhonda, and his grandchildren. Tom Jones introduced the tree, a new species for Mount Hope named “Weeping Redbud.”
In addition to Valerie, our planning group consisted of Marjorie Searl, Monica Gurell, Marcia Birken, Tom Jones, Chris Petote, Tony Filer, and Pat Corcoran.
While Jews in Rochester knew about the existence of the Jewish cemetery, they did not know where it was located until it was randomly rediscovered in 2005. Subsequent research by Gurell showed that these sections were the first public Jewish burial plots in Rochester. Cemetery records dated part of the original purchase to April 3, 1848, by several founders of the then Orthodox synagogue B’rith Kodesh, seven months before the synagogue was established. At the time of the first purchase in 1848, the Jewish community was only a few decades old, comprised mainly of German immigrants. An adjacent section was purchased by the Rochester German Benevolent Society in 1849. From the 1840’s to the 1870’s, 128 children and 47 adults were buried in the B’rith Kodesh plot. The nearby “Jewish Poor Lot” was used between 1886 and 1912, with 85 children and 15 adults buried there.
With the completion of this project, we pay respect to these Jewish pioneers in our community.
May their memories be a blessing.