By Sandra Goldman, Hebrew Cemetery Executive Director
After a year of being locked down and locked in, our country has slowly opened up again. Pleasant weather means being able to spend more time outside, and that includes being able to visit the cemetery. While cemeteries are quiet and peaceful, the grounds are now alive with an abundance of birds, including hawks, cardinals, and other Carolina natives. Beauty abounds.
Though our graves include old obelisks and other markers with intricate inscriptions, one area stands out in the historic section — the final resting place of Jacob and Bessie Rintels and two of their children. Jacob was one of Charlotte’s most successful merchants of his time, and he was one of the principal players who established the cemetery in 1867. A more-than-a-century-old wrought iron fence surrounds their family plot. It is the only plot enclosure within the cemetery. The fence is currently being restored with the help of a grant from the decedents of the Rintels family who still support the cemetery, even though they have all moved away.
Jonathan Rintels recalls, “Near the end of the last century, when somebody told me about this new thing called Google, I did what many did: I Googled my name. I found little about me, but there were several ‘Rintels’ links posted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historical Society. I got in touch with the director of the Historical Society and was invited to visit the Hebrew Cemetery.
“When I finally brought my family to Charlotte a few years later, Hilbert Furstmann gave us a tour of the Rintels family section of the cemetery and told us of Jacob and Bessie Rintels’s role in founding it. They were my great-grandparents, but I knew bupkis about them. My father was born in New England, so I’d always thought we were Yankees; it turns out I’m a Tar Heel! My brother has now also visited the cemetery and embarked on a deep dive into our Rintels’ family roots. Filling in this large hole in our family history has been rewarding and transforming.”
The sages advised us to purchase a burial plot even while we are alive and well. And it is commonly said that doing so will actually bless one with a long life. Although this blessing is not written in any classical Jewish source, it is possible to explain it psychologically. The fear of dying, like the fear of anything, saps our energy. Buying a burial plot may help normalize death, thus allowing us not to be preoccupied with it. An honest discussion about our final wishes is truly a gift to our loved ones.
Jacob and Bessie had no time to pre-plan, as their emphasis was on life, but Jacob knew that creating a Jewish cemetery was the most important and first obligation when establishing the Jewish community in Charlotte. Little did he know that they would need graves so soon, but we can only imagine that knowing that there was a final resting place for his family and community must have given him peace of mind.
Today, more than ever, a gentle reminder of our mortality can motivate us to use our time wisely. And this brings us to the importance of pre-planning and supporting the Hebrew cemetery. Most cemeteries are connected to a temple, but that is not the case here. The Hebrew Cemetery is a community cemetery, a nonprofit organization that established memberships early on. Members receive a 20% discount on the cost of burial, but it also gives a sense of belonging and purpose, knowing that these holy grounds will be well maintained.
As mentioned above, the Rintels no longer live here, but they continue to have close ties with the community. For history buffs, cemeteries provide a wealth of information. They are a snapshot of a community’s timeline, a permanent museum of those who came before. Jonathan Rintels couldn’t agree more, stating, “We all should know where we come from and pass that knowledge on to future generations. Our lives are richer for it. The Hebrew Cemetery has made that possible for my family, and we’re very grateful.”
To learn more about the Hebrew Cemetery, pre-planning choices, membership as well as legacy and donation opportunities, please contact the director, Sandra Goldman, at (704) 576-1859 or by email at [email protected].