Chabad Summer Camp cleans up historic Jewish Cemetery
Campers in Grass Valley are doing their part to preserve the Jewish history in Nevada County.
On June 28 over 20 campers ages 4-12 from Camp Gan Izzy of the Foothills visited the Historical Jewish Cemetery in Grass Valley for the first time. Friday was the last day of a one week Jewish summer camp led by Chabad of Grass Valley.
“We wanted to leave the campers with a message they would remember forever” said Chyena Yusewitz, camp director. On the bus ride, Chyena prepared the children for their visit to the Jewish Cemetery and set a tone of seriousness and respect for the sacred ground.
Campers learned about the history of the Jewish people in the times of the Gold Rush. These gravestones are tangible evidence of the Jews dedication to their faith even in the remote, rugged Gold Rush towns.
The January 1848 discovery of gold nuggets in the South Fork of California’s American River started a rush to the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada that lasted more than two decades. Jews populated the mining areas as well. Life in the mining camps and tent cities was difficult and unpredictable. Death from accident, fire, diseases and primitive medical care was part of the fabric of daily existence.
For the Jewish pioneer, the specter of death united him with his fellow Jews, impelling them to carry out Jewish law and tradition. Jewish law is unequivocal that the dead must be buried in the earth. In Jewish philosophy, the human body belongs to its Creator, and is merely on loan to the person who is the guardian of the body until the day when it must be returned. Responsibility for proper burial lies on the community when there is no next of kin.
By mid 1850s, the establishment of local Jewish cemeteries became necessary. It was too costly and impractical for communities to bury their dead 50 or 100 miles away.
Two dozen children and their counselors enter the cemetery 165 years later and recite the Shema Yisrael prayer from the depths of their souls. With gloves and trash bags in hand, the campers fanned out cleaning up, collecting hundreds of gallons of leaves and weeds. Children left the cemetery quietly singing the Jewish songs they learned in camp, but this time, with a much deeper appreciation of what it means to be born as a Jew, live as a Jew, and die as a Jew.
The tombstones and burial plots on these consecrated grounds function as historical documents that tell us much more than the name and the date of death; here is a testimony to the life of the Jewish Gold Rush pioneer.
For more information about Camp Gan Izzy or about the current active Jewish Cemetery in Nevada City, please contact Rabbi Nochum at rabbi@JewishGV.com or 530-404-0020.
Source: Chabad of Grass Valley
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