20 Years On, Weinberg Memorial Garden Dedicated

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The Weinberg family. Photo by Lacey Ann Johnson

The Rabbi Joseph P. Weinberg Memorial Garden was dedicated Sunday afternoon at the Garden of Remembrance, a 140-acre Jewish memorial park in northern Montgomery County.

A new space for reflection and contemplation drew 100 people who remembered a senior rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation and civil rights leader. Weinberg died at age 62 in 1999 of brain cancer.

“It was an honor having a garden there in his name,” said Jonathan Weinberg, the rabbi’s son and an attorney who spoke at the dedication ceremony in Clarksburg. He is also on the board of the nonprofit Garden of Remembrance.

“It was very moving,” Jonathan Weinberg said, “but also very appropriate in terms of his vision back years ago in creating a Jewish cemetery for the community.”

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Garden of Remembrance is nearly 25 years old and a $4.2 million campaign funded a 6,000-square-foot chapel for funeral services, which opened last year. The same donors earmarked contributions for the Weinberg Memorial Garden that is adjacent to the chapel.

Rabbi Weinberg, the fifth senior rabbi at the 171-year-old Reform temple, was buried there before the cemetery opened. “He’s remembered for a spirit of service and dedication to his congregation and all of the Jewish community,” said Hank Levine, board president of Garden of Remembrance.

A pathway from the chapel extends to a granite square with plantings of young trees, perennials and flowers. A raised planter features the name of the garden and benches will soon be placed there. “It’s a wonderful place for contemplation and reflection of the deceased. I’m sure we’ll enhance and expand it as the years go on,” Levine said.

Born in Chicago in 1937, Weinberg graduated from Northwestern University and immediately entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Following his ordination in 1963, he served as assistant rabbi at a San Francisco congregation before coming to Washington.He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma and was arrested twice.

“He had a very strong sense of social justice,” Levine said.

According to an obituary in The Washington Post, he served as Washington Hebrew Congregation for 31 years after arriving in Washington in 1968, a time when the city was wracked by racial riots and anti-war protests. He played a leading role in efforts to improve racial relations and fight poverty.

He was also a fervent supporter of Israel and campaigned for years to help Soviet Jews emigrate.

He helped start Ya’chad, a Jewish organization promoting affordable city housing and Carrie Simon House, a transitional home for unmarried mothers in Northwest Washington.

The crowd that gathered in Weinberg’s memory were mostly older congregants from the 2,200-member congregation in the District, Levine said.

Lewis Weiner, president of Washington Hebrew Congregation, delivered remarks at the dedication, as did Past President Ken Marks. Two members of the clergy also participated: Senior Rabbi Susan Shankman and Assistant Cantor Suzanne Hamstra.

The garden and the chapel are late in coming, Levine said. “We thought we would have it 20 years ago, but we only last year completed the chapel. There was one side where you have to have a driveway, but the other side was going to be grass and it quickly became apparent that that would be a nice place to put the garden.” ■

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