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2 cemeteries for Jewish faith

July 6, 2011
By Evan Bevins - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

Nearly 60 years ago, Clifford Holden applied for a job with the OKMAR oil and gas company.

Today, at the age of 90, the Constitution resident still does some work for the Beren family that owned the company, serving as an unofficial caretaker for the Jewish section of Marietta's Oak Grove Cemetery.

"I guess I just have a feeling that I should try to help look after it as long as I'm around," Holden said.

Article Photos

EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Tyler Wears, with the Marietta Public Facilities Department, trims weeds and grass Tuesday in the Jewish section of Oak Grove Cemetery.

Fifty-eight people are interred in the portion of the cemetery dedicated to Jewish burials, which is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. It is one of two Jewish burial sites in Marietta, whose Jewish population, while never large, has dwindled in recent years.

The smaller graveyard - all but invisible unless one is looking for it specifically - is located off the 1200 block of Cisler Drive. According to records from the Columbus Jewish Historical Society on file at the Washington County Local History and Genealogy Library, there are nine people buried there, although the overgrown vegetation and worn and broken tombstones make it hard to see all of those graves.

Cemeteries were important to Jewish immigrants, said Amy Shevitz, author of the book "Jewish Communities on the Ohio River." In observation of a traditional requirement, many Jews are interred in ground dedicated specifically to Jewish burial.

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A small cemetery off Cisler Drive, alternately known as the B'nai Israel or Ginsberg Cemetery, was established around 1900 or 1902. There are nine graves there.

There is a fenced-off portion of Oak Grove Cemetery designated for Jewish burials. There are 58 people buried there.

Source: Times research.

"One of the first things Jews tend to do when they settle in an area is obtain a cemetery," said Shevitz, who grew up in Marietta and now lives in Phoenix.

A February 1900 newspaper account indicates Marietta's Jewish community was looking for an additional burial site and mentioned Oak Grove as a possibility. It does not indicate where the other site is, although Shevitz's book says the Cisler Drive land was not purchased until 1902.

In the past, the Cisler Drive cemetery was cared for by OKMAR employees, Holden said. According to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society document, it is now under the auspices of the Telshe Yeshiva Rabbinical College in Wickliffe, near Cleveland.

A neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said it has been several years since he saw anyone working at the cemetery.

An official with Telshe Yeshiva said he did not have any information about the Cisler Drive cemetery but would look into the matter.

OKMAR eventually moved its operations to Wichita, Kansas, with Holden overseeing wells they owned in West Virginia and looking in on the Jewish plot at the Oak Grove Cemetery.

Holden said he regularly stops by Oak Grove and makes it a point to check on the Jewish section after storms, looking for fallen tree limbs and other concerns. If he sees minor issues, like morning glories growing up along the fence, he addresses them himself, removing the plants.

"If it's something that needs attention, I take it to the guy who's in charge," he said.

The cemetery is owned and cared for by the City of Marietta.

Jews first came to Marietta in the early 19th century but the population began to grow in the latter part of that century, with the influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Shevitz said the community became more organized with the arrival, around 1890, of an extended orthodox family from the Latvia area. Most of the well-known local Jewish family names - Beren, Brachman and Rabinowitz (later changed to Ruby) - came from this group.

"The Marietta cemeteries developed when there were enough people there and their families were there and they were committed," Shevitz said.



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