On Friday, May 23rd, a memorial event took place at the former site of the Congregation People of Righteousness Cemetery. In the late 1990′s, due to a confluence of circumstances, the nearly 160 people interred at the cemetery, including upwards of 75 children, were relocated to Israel when the property was sold to the development corporation who would eventually turn the area into retail shopping. Today, this area includes Costco and Stew Leonards. Fortunately, a beautiful memorial remains, reminding visitors the retail shopping area was once sacred burial grounds.
Pursuant to its mission, CAJAC is committed to ensuring kavod ha-met, the respect and dignity of the deceased. As such, CAJAC continues to promote this message in the broader Jewish community, sensitizing all facets of the community to the vulnerability of Jewish cemeteries. On this particular day, CAJAC was blessed to have one of its most important audiences, Jewish youth, lead a moving memorial program. We gratefully acknowledge Rabbi Harry Pell, Rabbi-In-Residence of Solomon Schechter of Westchester and the nearly sixty Solomon Schechter of Westchester high school seniors who participated in this important program.
CAJAC is also grateful to Mayor Mike Spano and his staff who helped pave the way the for this important event. In addition, we were pleased Mayor Spano attended the event and addressed the audience. In addition to Mayor Spano, New York State Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer was in attendance and offered remarks.
Last but not least, CAJAC is grateful to Costco and Yonkers Store Manager Joel Brandstrum for allowing this event to happen.
Bradley Goldman, a Solomon Schechter Senior, offered his senior drasha (sermon) at this program, found below:
As we say in my Hebrew school classroom, numbers are very important. In Judaism there is a system known as gematria. In gematria, each letter of the alef bet is assigned to a number. This system can sometimes explain the seemingly unexplainable, and it is used to connect different aspects of our religion and culture.In addition, in Judaism, certain numbers have great importance and meaning. Numbers like 4 during Passover, 13 the age of a bar/bat mitzvah, 7th day of Shabbat, 40 days and nights in the stories of Noah and Moses, and one as we were the first nation to recognize one God. In the first Parasha of the book of Bamidbar, which is conveniently named Bamidbar, we read:God instructs Moses to conduct a census of all males over the age of twenty from each tribe. Moses and Aaron along with the appointed leader of each tribe carry out the commands of God across all tribes not including the Levites who are entrusted with the transportation and daily rituals of the Mishkan. This number comes out to approximately 603,550 troops. What is the point of this census and why isn’t everyone’s names collected instead of just numbers?We learn from the Talmud in Masechet Sandhedrin 37a: ” Whoever destroys a single soul it is like he/she has destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a single soul it is like he/she has saved the entire world” So why?Nachmanides has a truly brilliant answer. The word “count,” in Hebrew pakod, could also mean “remember” and to “be concerned with.” Just as you tap your pockets right after you leave your house to make sure you have everything and when you double click the lock button on your car keys to make sure it’s locked, God is doing the same thing. God loves the Jewish people and counts them in order to remember each and every one of them.However, God is not the only one who remembers numbers, we do as well. As a grade, we traveled halfway around the world to remember the 6 million Jews who perished in the Shoah. We visited each place that once upon a time was filled with Jewish promise, pride and life. We were taught very clearly on this trip that we must remember the Jews who have left this world, yet sometimes it is too easy for us to forget about the Jews in our very own community.Today we come together to remember those who died in our own Jewish community, not 10 hours and 50 minutes away by plane but rather 22 minutes away including traffic by car. This is not on the other side of the world, rather our own backyard. And there is absolutely nobody to blame beside ourselves as Jews. The buildings here, obtained the land through fair and legal purchases because our Jewish communities in the tri state area forgot and allowed this final burial ground of Jews to fall into disrepair. As Jews it is our responsibility to do our part. We are responsible for taking our Jewish community wherever we go, whether to college, Israel or anyway else later in life, and we must understand our job to repair the world, Tikkun Olam.While in Poland we spoke with one of the many non-Jews who risked their lives to do what they felt was right. She looked past society’s “standards” and saw what was really important, that Jews just like any religion, race, or sexual orientation are human beings. Paulina, the righteous gentile, who saved five Jews also known as five worlds, truly did something unbelievable and without her and her family our Jewish community would not be the same.While this is an extremely remarkable act we must understand that as Jews and as humans we are obligated to make this world a better place. We must overcome the challenges and difficult tasks that present themselves in our lives, because we know it is the right thing to do. We must treat others the way we want to be treated because that is how we were raised. We must begin here, today, by remembering those in our community as people, and not as numbers, because every one person is their own world.