Group raising money for historic Jewish cemetery

Monday, May 30, 2005 - Morning Sun

An AP Member Exchange

By JIM BAKER
Lawrence Journal-World

EUDORA - At the quiet intersection of two gravel roads in rural Douglas County stands a little piece of Jewish history.

Occupying one quarter of a bucolic, two-acre parcel of land just southwest of Eudora is B'nai Israel Cemetery. It contains the graves of about 40 Jewish men, women and children stretching from the middle of the 19th century to the dawn of the 21st.

The oldest tombstone marks the burial site of a child, Isaac Cohn, who died in 1858. The most recent burial, for a Lawrence woman named Una Hehir Forer, took place earlier this year.

Now, the cemetery has a lonesome air amid the surrounding farmland and pasture, forlorn and perhaps forgotten by all but a few.

But that's about to change.

In February, the Lawrence Jewish Community Center - the legal owner of the land - launched a capital campaign to raise $40,000 to upgrade the cemetery's appearance.

Since March, 49 people have pledged $35,000 to the campaign and 15 others have indicated they will donate to the fund.

Plans call for the cemetery to be filled out with new landscaping and native plantings, a water meter to nourish the greenery and a circular road for improved access.

No longer will it seem so bleak.

"I think it's great. You'll be able to drive down the road, and instead of just seeing a few tombstones off in a corner, you're going to see an oasis of trees and plantings in what used to be a Kansas farm field," says Neil Shanberg, the cemetery's sexton, or caretaker.

"It's going to make a good impression, and you're going to say, 'Isn't that beautiful?'"

Which is just fine with Shanberg.

Some day, he and his wife, Liz Kundin, will be buried here.

Many of those who are buried in B'nai Israel Cemetery no longer have living relatives, or at least relatives in the Lawrence area.

But raising tens of thousands of dollars for the improvement effort has come easily, according to Kundin, chairman of the capital campaign.

"It's something that is very important, and to make this happen requires money. The fund-raising effort certainly hasn't been difficult. People understand why we're raising money, and they're helping to the extent they are able," Kundin says.

Shanberg and Kundin belong to the Lawrence Jewish Community Center. Shanberg is a former president of the congregation.

Four members have donated $1,800 or more. Ten members have contributed $900 or more. And one couple who belongs to the center donated a car, which was then sold for $5,000.

"They gave that specifically as our (capital campaign) kickoff gift," Kundin says.

Donations to the campaign have been made by current and former center members and their relatives, as well as the relatives of some of those who have been buried in the cemetery in recent decades.

Thirteen burials have taken place there since 1980.

Every center member has a right to be buried in the cemetery, and because there are many interfaith marriages among the congregation, non-Jewish family members may be buried there, too.

But B'nai Israel Cemetery - the Jewish cemetery nearest to Lawrence - is intended to serve the needs of all Jews who live in this area, including those from nearby communities such as Topeka.

Isaac Cohn, who died in 1858 not in listing, but apparently there.