At a community meeting last month Lisa Berenson, Director of Development for Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts (JCAM) Charitable Foundation said the foundation is continuing to restore the historic Ohabei Shalom Chapel on Wordsworth Street with several projects in the works.
Built in 1903 the Ohabei Shalom Chapel served as a mortuary chapel for the adjacent Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1844, and was the first Jewish Cemetery in Massachusetts that served Boston and Mystic Valley’s Jewish population.
According to plans the JCAM will complete a historic restoration of not only the chapel to create the neighborhood’s first immigration center but also the cemetery’s perimeter.
We’re in the process of doing a lot of restoration at the cemetery,” said Berenson. “We’ve completely restored the exits to the cemetery. We’ve completely renovated the exterior of the chapel and the entire exterior of that building and repointed it completely. We’ve been able to do this with funds from the Mass Historical Commission, private foundations and donations.”
Berenson said JCAM’s latest project right now is the fence at the back of the cemetery that borders Byron Street.
“It’s kind of an eyesore and we realize that and it’s just been a matter of raising money to be able to do some work on that retaining wall that is crumbling,” said Berenson. “The chainlink fence is rusted and that is an eyesore as well. So, thankfully, we have been writing grants and we’ve been doing pretty well with getting some funding. We’re very excited about starting the wall restoration and the replacement fence at the back of the cemetery. We’re hoping to have this completed sometime in the fall. We’re going to aggressively start working on that very shortly, and it’s not only going to be good for the Byron Street neighborhood but for us as well.”
Berenson explained over the years the cemetery has had its fair share of vandalism.
“Over the course of many years we have had lots of vandalism,” she said. “Kids go into the cemetery to drink and just throw trash all over the place and knock down monuments. We had some graffiti about two years ago on the wall on Byron Street. We’ve had some antisemitic incidents at The Chapel that we’ve had to deal withas well. The thing is these monuments at the back of the cemetery are the oldest monuments and date back to 1866. These are the most fragile because they are not made out of granite, a lot of them are made out of unpolished marble so they’re very very fragile. So for somebody to come into the cemetery and do damage to those monuments is reprehensible.”
In order to secure the cemetery and keep unwanted visitors away, Berenson said fixing the wall and adding a new fence will be a good start.
“We actually just submitted a grant to the East Boston Foundation because what we’re hoping to do is not just replace the chain link fence with another chain fence,” said Berenson. “We would like to get a historically accurate fence that would mimic the fence at the front of the cemetery on Woodsworth Street so it looks very historically accurate and beautiful.”
The JCAM also received funds from Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding last year. Under Historic Preservation $40,000 went towards helping restore the wall on Byron Street that Berenson said was crumbling.