The Alliance reserves its Stewardship Recognition for owners of historic properties that demonstrate an ongoing commitment to preservation. The work of preservation is often undertaken in phases, over many years, and it is important to recognize diligent stewardship. The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts (JCAM) assumed responsibility for the 1844 Ohabei Shalom Cemetery, the state’s first legally established Jewish cemetery, in 1996. Inspired by the research of students at the Boston Architectural College, JCAM decided to save and rehabilitate the dilapidated 1903 chapel building. Their efforts over many years, and especially through the completion of a recent phase of restoration, have saved this treasure from loss with plans for it to become the East Boston Immigration Center. The Center will house a permanent exhibit chronicling the immigration history of greater Boston and will provide space for a variety of programs.
A series of fundraising efforts and grants made possible the recent restoration of the chapel’s envelope, a critical first phase to assuring the building’s future. The project included structural reinforcement, masonry repointing, slate roof repairs, replacement of gutters and downspouts, window lintels, and wooden entry doors, and the restoration of stained glass. Though renovation of the interior has yet to be undertaken, the building is now secure and maintains its solemn, stately presence in the historic cemetery.
“Cemeteries are both our most revered and most ignored places of history, open space, and refuge. Many find the honor they deserve illusive when founding institutions and families fade away. All too often plantings receive minimal or no upkeep, grave markers deteriorate and fall, and small chapels fall into disuse and begin to fail. This was the case of Jewish cemeteries throughout the state, as congregations closed, consolidated, and lost their ability to provide care,” says Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts now cares for 123 cemeteries – 70 in Boston. Ohabei Shalom (Lovers of Peace), the first Jewish cemetery in the state (1844), is but one. The ongoing stewardship exemplified by JCAM’s work on this chapel is emblematic of their unique and much applauded work. They are returning honor to these historic places, such an integral part of our heritage.”
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As neighborhoods change over generations, it's important that touchpoints to their past both remain in place and sensitively evolve to maintain their relevance.