Smiles mixed with tears Nov. 13 as the memorial center and chapel at Garden of Remembrance Memorial Park was dedicated.
The new facilities at the Jewish cemetery in Clarksburg give mourners a place to gather and be comforted when they bury their loved ones. They are the culmination of dreams nearly 30 years old.
Those dreams began with Washington Hebrew Congregation and now include 29 congregations, representing all branches of Judaism.
“We have — all of us — fulfilled a dream” that arose 28 years ago during a Washington Hebrew Congregation retreat, said Susan Hanenbaum, a member of the Garden of Remembrance’s board of directors.
“Here in the Garden of Remembrance, we can dream and pay tribute to our dreams,” she said.
The large Jewish star stained glass window that once graced Washington Hebrew Congregation when it was located at Eighth and I Streets “is now our breathtaking centerpiece,” declared Hank Levine, president of the cemetery’s board of directors.
During the Sunday afternoon dedication, Ken Marks, past president of Washington Hebrew Congregation and chair of the board at Gan Zikaron Memorial Park, recalled how a deposit was placed back in 1996 to purchase 152 acres in Clarksburg.
Years of zoning applications, building plans and rock removal followed, leading to the current site that is the final resting place for 2,600 people.
Albert “Sonny” Small Jr., who the memorial chapel is named in honor of, recalled his first visits to the site. “There was nothing here,” he said. “I’m looking around, and I see rock outcroppings and more outcroppings everywhere I can see, and I think — we’re building a cemetery here?”
Referring to the spot where the chapel now sits, Small said, “Where we are sitting right now was a tremendous outcropping. Everything here was blasted.”
He praised the new building, and in particular its bathrooms, something Garden of Remembrance did not have before.
He also thanked those involved, noting, “Community is the heart and soul. The community has been extraordinary. It really took people with a vision for this to happen.”
Washington Hebrew Congregation Senior Rabbi Susan Shankman called the chapel “a refuge and a sanctuary during life’s most challenging moments.”
Matthew Simon, rabbi emeritus at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, recalled how the late Sheldon Grosberg strove to reach this day in his role as executive director. “He was involved in planting every tree,” Simon recalled.
Simon told the packed audience, “We open our tents symbolically to bring close in our tradition those who need comfort.”
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) praised the facilities. “I come mostly as a father whose son lays to rest here far too early,” he said, adding, “This is a place of an extension of so many homes, so many hearts.”
And Raymond Greenberg spoke about coming to the cemetery every Sunday for the past three years to be with his wife. “I’m close to my wife, and it means a lot to me.”
This is a place “to grieve and celebrate our lives,” Greenberg said, adding that he purchased almost 20 burial plots when the cemetery first opened so his family could always be together.
Correction, Nov. 23, 2022, 11 a.m.: The spelling of Sheldon Grosberg’s name has been corrected.