Detroit Cemetery Earns Special Historical Distinction From The City

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Before the cleanup
Before the cleanup

B’nai David Cemetery was granted historical status by the Detroit City Council last week.

“This protects the cemetery from any future development and honors it as a place of historical significance,” said David Goldman of Farmington Hills, whose daughter Eva spurred the idea for the cemetery cleanup during an annual visit to the grave of her great-great-grandmother in 2014.

The abandoned cemetery had been overgrown by weeds. Garbage littered the ground, and many of the headstones had fallen over when Eva organized the first cemetery cleanup. Since then, local Jewish Detroiters volunteer their time cleaning up the cemetery a few times a year (including last week during JFS’ Fall Fix Up).

B’nai David Cemetery, one of Detroit’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, is located on Van Dyke between Harper and McNichols in Detroit. It was organized in 1897 as Beth David Cemetery and incorporated on July 7, 1903. The cemetery has approximately 1,300 interments, the first in 1903.

After the cleanup
After the cleanup

The cemetery fell into neglect as Detroit’s Jewish residents were relocating to the suburbs. In the mid-1950s, B’nai David Synagogue relocated to Oakland County. Today, the congregation no longer exists.

Goldman formed the Friends of B’nai David Cemetery, which works to raise money for an endowment to pay for basic maintenance at the cemetery.

“The goal is to make the cemetery safer and more accessible so people feel comfortable visiting the graves of their family members when they want,” Goldman said.

The last burial in the cemetery took place in 2015. Betty (Levine) Weiss, who died March 15, 2015, requested to be buried beside her late husband, Sidney David Weiss, who died 38 years prior.

Goldman has a list of names of those buried in the cemetery.

“It has become incumbent upon the Detroit Jewish community to clean up this cemetery and continue maintenance for generations to come,” Goldman said.

The historical designation from the city recognizes the cemetery’s “unique contribution to a sense of place in the community.”

Detroit contains roughly 130 designated historic sites.

Keep up to date on what’s happening at B’nai David by following Friends of B’nai David Cemetery on Facebook.

 

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