Cemetery Photos by Robert Block
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Among the many services our Congregation offers our members and the wider Jewish community is our cemetery. This site, Section J5 of Park Lawn Cemetery in Bennington, is probably the loveliest, most peaceful Jewish cemetery in the U.S., with stunning views overlooking the Pownal Valley to the south of town.
In 1953 members of our Congregation arranged with Park Lawn Cemetery to take charge of the sale of plots in Section J5 to assure our members burial amongst co-religionists. Section J5 is separated from the rest of Park Lawn by a perimeter hedge. Originally, a separate Cemetery Board of Trustees was established, but that was folded into a Committee of the Beth El Board of Trustees during the 1990s. The Cemetery Endowment Fund set up in 1953 for Perpetual Care is maintained as a separate Cemetery Endowment Fund to be used only for cemetery purposes within the larger Beth El budget.
In 2013 -14, thanks to donations from current and past congregation members and families. a beautiful stone entrance walkway and “meditation garden,” spiritual space, was added to enhance the peace and beauty of the cemetery for families and loved ones.
The policies of the cemetery have evolved as our Congregation has evolved. In 1953 our Congregation was Orthodox, as presumably were most of the families. During the tenure of Rabbi Howard Cohen, when our Congregation became Reconstructionist, questions arose about Jewish identity and who could or should be buried in our cemetery.
The Board of Trustees followed Rabbi Cohen's recommendation to both honor the presumed expectations of the original Orthodox families and also to be open and welcoming to new definitions of Jewishness and Congregation membership. This resulted in separating the cemetery into Halachic and Non-Halachic sections. There's no defined wall or fence or boundary between these sections; they are on the right and left sides of the entrance.
Our current practice is to offer plots in the Halachic Section to individuals who self-identify as Jewish by maternal descent and who prefer burial in that section, which is where the oldest presumably more Orthodox, burials had taken place. Plots in the Non-Halachic Section are offered to individuals who prefer that location or who self-identify as Jewish by paternal descent, by informal identity or who are not Jewish.
Purchasing and Pricing
If you are interested in buying a plot, whether you’re a Congregation Member or a Non-Member, please contact our office. We are fortunate to have many gravesites available, so we sell plots to Non-Members as well as Members. The office will put you in touch with a member of the Cemetery Committee who will assist with and arrange the purchase.
A Committee member will arrange to meet you at the cemetery if that’s convenient, or assist you by phone to help you choose your plot(s) and provide current pricing. We never demand "proofs" or place families into the Halachic or Non-Halachic Section. We are sensitive to self-definitions and want to recognize the fluid definitions of Jewishness, inter-faith marriages and partnerships. We want all Jewish-identified families and their family members to feel welcome to purchase.
Our Congregation does not own Section J5 of Park Lawn outright; rather we control sales and pay Park Lawn Cemetery for each plot out of the price we charge, so our prices change annually. Our price is based on what Park Lawn charges us each year plus an additional fee we keep in our Cemetery Endowment Fund to pay for perpetual care. Park Lawn's price also includes their perpetual care responsibilities. Park Lawn's price to us is adjusted annually, so our prices reflect those increases.
The Beth El Board policy is that we charge Members less than Non-Members, as a benefit of membership in the Congregation. All prices are subject to change, so please contact the Beth El office to be put in touch with a member of the Cemetery Committee for most current prices.
Purchasers of single plots are charged an additional $25 for the legal cost to prepare the deed. For others, this fee is included. All purchasers also are charged $10.00 for the cost of registering the deed with the Town of Bennington as proof of plot and land ownership. There may also be additional Park Lawn cemetery fees, which your funeral home will inform you about, depending on your arrangements.
We have a policy of not buying back plots after purchase. Owners may assign ownership or usage to other family members. If you do so, it is your responsibility to inform Park Lawn Cemetery and a member of our committee for our records. All other funeral arrangments must be made separately by the family with funeral homes and Rabbi.