My Grandfathers’ Cemeteries and the Light that Never Goes Out

I read an article a while ago about the Jews of Indonesia. I didn’t know there were any, but since I write from time to time about the Jews of Claremont, the article naturally caught my interest. I learned that these Indonesian Jews, descended from early Dutch settlers, live in a place called Manado. Not surprisingly, there aren’t many left.

Curiously, the city recently built and paid for a 62-foot-tall menorah (candelabrum used in Jewish worship) which stands on a nearby mountaintop. And there is a synagogue, the only one remaining in the country, but the nearest rabbi is in Singapore, so the Jews of Manado rely on “Rabbi Google” to learn about their ancestral faith. They barely have enough for a “minyan” (the quorum of ten adults necessary to conduct services) – yet the eternal light burns over the holy ark, as it does in every synagogue.

The part of the article that gnawed at me was mention of Manado’s Jewish cemetery, overgrown with weeds and rarely visited. I decided it was time I visited the gravesites of my Steinfield grandparents. I remembered they were buried in West Roxbury, but I didn’t know the exact location, and there is nobody left to ask. So I did what the Manado Jews do – I consulted Rabbi Google, and within minutes had the name of the cemetery, “Adath Israel” on Jeshuran Road, and the locations for my grandfather (back left row B #11) and my grandmother (front right row K #19). I remember the last time I was there, for the funeral of my Uncle Bill on February 19, 1957, my eighteenth birthday.

Finding Jeshuran Road is no simple task, but after asking several people for directions I came upon several cemeteries, all clustered together, neatly kept and weedless, one with the name “Adas Yisroel.” The next problem was finding the designated locations. There are no lettered rows or numbered graves. I wandered around the “back left” and “front right,” but I couldn’t find them and finally gave up.

Not for long. I threw myself on the mercy of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, and a helpful woman said she would do some research for me. That very day, she sent me a rudimentary map of “Adas Yisroeil,” showing “back left” and “front right” and some letters, so off I went again, looking for my grandparents.

I found them. My grandmother Bertha’s stone says “Beloved Mother Died October 21, 1943.” My Uncle Bill is to her right, her brother Max and her sister Ida (and their spouses) are to her left. Each has a separate gravestone in front of a large monument that says “Steinfield – Ruben –Marshall.” Why, I wondered, is my grandfather not there too? Again, there is no one I can ask. I then located my grandfather in “back left Row B.” The stone is very large – “In memory of our beloved father Joseph B. Steinfield Died Dec. 12, 1911, Age 44 years.” Why “B?” His middle name was David, like mine. Well, I know they called him ”Burt.”

Back in the 1950’s, the Jews of Claremont decided to have their own cemetery. My Grandfather Firestone organized that project so that, in his words, “we won’t have to ‘schlep’ (Yiddish for “lug”) them to Boston.” My father was the first to sign up, and he picked the plot nearest the entrance so that we wouldn’t have a problem finding him. My mother is next to him. Whenever I go to Claremont, that’s my first stop.

My latest stop, the resting place of my Steinfield grandparents whom they had to “schlep” from Claremont to Boston, is now burned in my memory. Before leaving the cemetery, following the Jewish tradition, I put stones on their graves. Later that day I looked up “Jeshuran,” the name of the road. It comes from the Old Testament and means “beloved.”

2017-05-19T20:27:49+00:00 By |