Sinai adds second Jewish area to Lafayette cemetery

Sinai Memorial Chapel, the only Jewish mortuary in the Bay Area, has established a new burial garden in the Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette to meet the needs of Contra Costa's rapidly growing Jewish community.

Susan Lefelstein, East Bay director of Sinai Memorial Chapel, said that since "Jewish population has increased tremendously in recent times, the need for more space has nearly tripled. Fortunately, Sinai Chapel is able to provide for that need."

The new section, named Gan Rachamim (Garden of Compassion) will contain almost 350 spaces.

The site will be next to Oakmont's current Jewish burial garden, the Garden of Remembrance, which has 600 spaces and is nearly filled.

A consecration ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Oakmont, 2099 Reliez Valley Road. Rabbi Gordon Freeman of Congregation B'nai Shalom will conduct the service, which is open to the public. For information, call Susan Lefelstein (925) 284-3945.

The burial area will include a special Wall of Remembrance with bronze plaques for those who do not have burial plots.

"The Wall of Remembrance will be the only one of its kind in the Bay Area," Lefelstein said. "It is a special feature and a needed feature. It is for people who have been cremated and also for those who did not survive the Holocaust."

Gan Rachamim will be available to all Jews, both synagogue affiliated and nonaffiliated.

The new burial garden continues Sinai's expansion in the East Bay. Sinai Chapel, originally located in San Francisco, established an East Bay office and the first Jewish cemetery in Contra Costa County in 1993.

Matook Nissim, chair of Sinai's East Bay committee, stressed the importance of continuing to meet the needs of area residents. Before the Jewish area opened at Oakmont five years ago, Sinai was getting fewer than 40 calls a year from families in the East Bay. Now the mortuary is receiving 186 a year. "This shows there is a tremendous need to continue expansion," he said.

"Before we expanded into the East Bay, we used to have to transport the deceased bodies over the bridge to San Francisco so they could go through the process of the taharah ritual to purify the bodies. This upset me. Now that we have addressed that issue, there has not been a single problem."

Nissim, who has been on the board of Sinai for more than 24 years, said "the timing could not be better. Of the first plots we purchased, there are only six left."

"What we lack now is a funeral sanctuary which can hold 200 to 300 people," he said. "We are hoping somewhere along the line we can obtain that to round out the picture."

Plans are also under way to build an all-Jewish cemetery, Gan Shalom, in the East Bay. The cemetery, whose location has not yet been confirmed, will be operated solely by the Sinai Memorial Chapel and is expected to open in two years.

Last year, the Bulletin reported that Gan Shalom acquired the option to purchase 79 acres in the Martinez-Hercules area, but Gan Shalom has since decided not to build a cemetery on that land, according to Lefelstein.

In the meantime, the expansion at Oakmont will bring the number of Jewish burial sites there to nearly 1,000.

"Hopefully, Sinai will continue to establish a name in the East Bay by being of service to everyone," Nissim said. "The new plots will establish continuity and in about two years, Gan Shalom will be ready to take over."

In addition to the Sinai burial gardens, several East Bay synagogues have cemeteries, including Home of Peace Cemetery, operated by Oakland's Beth Jacob Congregation; Home of Eternity, operated by Oakland's Temple Sinai; Danville's Beth Chaim Congregation Cemetery; and Garden of Tranquility, for members of Lafayette's Temple Isaiah.