It could have rained, but instead the sun chose to shine on the hundred people gathered on November 13 at the Eternal House Cemetery in Colma. They were there for the dedication of a new Jewish space for those who have experienced the loss of a miscarriage, a stillbirth or the death of a newborn. The memory garden is the first specifically Jewish memorial site for prenatal and newborn loss in the country, its founders said. In creating the garden, they wanted to provide an outer, physical place for the inner expression of grief and mourning.
“For the Jewish community, it’s very important for us to have a physical place to go,” said Lisa Fund advisor Debbie Findling and Douglas Goldman, who founded the garden project with Abby Porth, director of the Lisa Stone. Pritzker Family Foundation.
The dedication was the culmination of a long journey which began with a conversation between Findling and Porth over a decade ago. Both women had suffered pregnancy loss and wanted to turn to Judaism and Jewish ritual for support in their bereavement, but felt a lack.
“There really wasn’t a way to get through the experience from a Jewish perspective,” Findling said.
Much of Jewish practice is to mark time and repeat the ritual, as is the case with the many traditions around mourning. But Judaism does not prescribe specific rites for miscarriages or stillbirths. According to Maimonides: “We dont do [perform ritual mourning rites] for stillborn children.
Finding Jewish solutions was therefore difficult for Findling. “For example, I didn’t know what to do on the anniversary, the yahrzeit, of my stillbirth,” she said.
Porth and Findling started a conversation that expanded to include the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center and Sinai Memorial Chapel Jewish Funeral Homewho agreed to make the land of the cemetery he owns available for the Garden of Memory.
“It took a long time to prepare,” said Sinai Memorial executive director Sam Salkin.
Salkin said it took so long to create the garden because of the fundraising and legal steps involved in setting up the space, which included burying important PG&E infrastructure and managing of a BART right-of-way.
The process also involved a lot of listening to the community and dialogues with those who had experienced bereavement related to prenatal loss or infertility issues. The result is a design of MPA Design, a San Francisco-based landscape architecture firm that also worked on the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, the Doyle Drive redesign plan in San Francisco, and the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco. Francis.
It features an open space with native California plants, complete with redwood trees and a large, flat circular pool, “round like a womb,” Findling said.
“The outer edge of the circle are the months of the year, both in English and Hebrew,” she said, and in the water are stones that can be moved and repositioned by visitors, a nod to the placement of stones on tombstones. and the marking of holy days on the Jewish calendar.
But that’s meant to be open to interpretation, Findling added. She hopes families, rabbis and those who are grieving will find a canvas on which to do their own rituals.
“It’s up to them to create the meaning,” she says. “We created the space.”
Salkin said that although the garden is adjacent to the cemetery, it offers “privacy and seclusion” – which will be even more true once the new plants have grown a bit.
The opening of the Garden of Memory on Sunday brought together clergy from all Jewish faiths. Cantor Marsha Attie of Congregation Emanu-El (Reform) in San Francisco and Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman of Emek Beracha (Orthodox) in Palo Alto both attended the dedication, along with Findling, Porth, Salkin and Jennifer Kaufman , an artist and Sinai Memorial staff member.
While it was created in a Jewish space, the garden is open to everyone. It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through Friday and closed on Jewish holidays. Reservations are required for private gatherings by contacting Eternal Home or Sinai Memorial.
Findling said that for her, the garden has proven to be a place where she can create meaning and connection with Judaism in relation to the loss she suffered many years ago but still carries. with her.
“This is where I go now for my stillbirth anniversary,” Findling said. “I’m going to the Garden of Memory.”